Speaking Notes for Caroline Maynard, Information Commissioner of Canada
May 9, 2018
Check against delivery.
Thank you for inviting me to be here with you today.
I am joined by Layla Michaud, Deputy Commissioner of Investigations and Governance, and Allison Knight, Senior Director of Investigations.
Let me start by saying that it is an honour for me to serve as Information Commissioner of Canada.
I recognize the trust that has been placed in me. I look forward to the next seven years of working to ensure openness and transparency at the federal level.
I began my mandate a little over two months ago and I came into a very busy office.
As of today, the Office of the Information Commissioners inventory has reached 3,500 complaints. This is a 23 percent increase from the previous year. New complaints have also continued to grow. My team registered nearly 2,600 new files in the year that just ended on March 31. That is a 25 percent increase from 2016–17.
The Access to Information Act promises timely access to information. This is why my first priority is to address the inventory of complaints while continuing to investigate new complaints as they arrive.
To do this, I am working with my team to review investigative practices and procedures. We intend on improving operational efficiencies and addressing delays.
As you may know, the Federal Budget 2018 included $2.9 million in funding for my office. My plan is to use all of these funds to resolve complaints.
In particular, I would bolster my investigations team for 2018–19.
I would fill vacant permanent positions and re-hire the experienced consultants that my office engaged last year.
This would be good news for requesters as my office would be able to complete more investigations in the coming year because of this additional funding.
My second priority will be to take steps to implement the anticipated amendments to the Access to Information Act contained in Bill C-58. These proposed changes could present operational challenges for my office.
My third priority will be to ensure that the day-to-day work of my office is open and transparent. I will also stress these values in my interactions with institutions, Members of Parliament and stakeholders such as yourselves.
In addition, work is already under way to enhance and refresh my office’s web and social media presence.
Finally, my team will work closely with institutions to help them meet their obligations under the Access to Information Act. We will collaborate with institutions to address systemic issues that serve as barriers to access.
Yesterday, I appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics to secure funding for my office for 2018-2019.
My office was granted $11.4 million for the year, which is the same amount my office has received in the past 6 years. During my appearance, I emphasized the importance of increasing our permanent funding to ensure lasting stability and timely investigations.
With respect to Bill C-58, I understand that you have concerns. I have reviewed your organizations’ submission to ETHI And I echo many of your concerns, particularly as they relate to section 6.
As you know, Bill C-58 would impose three additional mandatory requirements that requesters must fulfill when making an access request.
Requesters would be required to provide:
- The specific subject matter of the request;
- The type of record being requested; and
- The date or timeframe of the record being requested.
In my view, these additional mandatory requirements are barriers to access. They also assume requesters have a professional understanding of the workings of government or prior knowledge of the record that is being requested.
This is not always the case for most requesters.
In my view, the proposed amended section 6 would potentially prevent requests from being made.
My other two concerns with the Bill are related to the transition periods and the lack of an enforcement mechanism for orders issued by the Information Commissioner.
First, under Bill C-58, there are two relevant coming into force dates to be aware of.
The provision that allows institutions to seek permission from my office in order to refuse to act on a request would come into effect as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent.
However, the ability to order institutions to disclose information would not come into force until one year after the Bill receives Royal Assent.
The transition period will result in concurrent investigation systems running at the same time, potentially for a number of years.
It would create confusion for the OIC, institutions and complainants alike, and could also result in an increase to delays in our investigations.
Second, Bill C-58 includes no mechanism to have the Information Commissioner’s orders certified as orders of the Federal Court. This means that there is no recourse available if an institution decides to ignore an order from the Commissioner.
Since beginning my mandate, I have met with the President of the Treasury Board to share my concerns with Bill C-58.
I suggested to him that the new mandatory requirements under section 6 should be removed, That there should be no transition periods, And that the Information Commissioner’s orders should be certifiable as orders of the Federal Court.
In addition, the Privacy Commissioner and I have jointly submitted a letter to the President of the Treasury Board to address our shared concerns relating to the Privacy Commissioner’s involvement in access investigations.
As you know, Bill C-58 is currently at Second Reading in the Senate.
I do not know when Bill C-58 could go to committee in the Senate; however, I would be open to appearing before the committee to share my concerns.
In my view, there is still an opportunity to amend Bill C-58 in the Senate for the benefit of access rights.
I encourage the National Claims Research Directors to make a submission to the Senate with your concerns and to request to appear if possible.
Thank you. I would be pleased to answer your questions.