The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics studies and reports on matters referred to it by the House of Commons, or on topics the Committee itself chooses to examine under its mandate. It is a permanent committee established by the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. Bills, departmental activities and spending, and other matters related to the general subject matter of the Committee may be referred to it.
Under Standing Order 108(3)(h), the Committee’s mandate is to study matters related to reports of the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada, and the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner pursuant to the Conflict of Interest Act (matters related to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons are studied by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs).
Detailed information on the role and powers of committees may be found in the Compendium of House of Commons Procedure and in Chapter XIII of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.
The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics was established by an agreement of all parties represented in the House of Commons at the beginning of the 1st Session of the 38th Parliament. It held its first meeting in October 2004. On December 14, 2004, the House of Commons concurred in the 20th report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which established the Committee’s mandate.
In the execution of its functions, each committee is normally assisted by a committee clerk, an analyst and a committee assistant. Occasional assistance is also provided by legislative clerks and lawyers from the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel. All of these individuals are non-partisan and serve all members of the committee and representatives of all parties equally.
The clerk performs his or her duties and responsibilities under the direction of the committee and its Chair. As an expert in the rules of the House of Commons, the clerk may be requested to give advice to the Chair and members of the committee should a question of procedure arise. The clerk is the coordinator, organizer and liaison officer for the committee and as such will be in frequent contact with members’ staff. He or she is also responsible to invite witnesses and to deal with all the details regarding their appearance before the committee.
The committee assistant provides a wide range of specialized administrative services for, in particular, the organization of committee meetings and the publishing of documents on the committees’ website. The committee assistant works with the clerk to meet the needs of committees.
The Library of Parliament’s analysts provide authoritative, substantive, and timely research, analysis and information to all members of the Committee. They are part of the Committee’s institutional memory and are a unique resource for parliamentarians. Supported by research librarians, the analyst works individually or in multidisciplinary teams.
Analysts can prepare: briefing notes on the subjects being examined; detailed study plans; lists of proposed witnesses; analyses of an issue with a list of suggested questions; background papers; draft reports; news releases; and/or formal correspondence. Analysts with legal training can assist the Committee regarding any substantive issues that may arise during the consideration of bills.
OTHER RESOURCES AVAILABLE AS REQUIRED
Within the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, Parliamentary Counsel (Legislation) are available to assist Members who are not in Cabinet in the preparation of private Members’ bills or of amendments to Government bills or others.
At various stages of the legislative process, Members may propose amendments to bills. Amendments may first be proposed at the Committee Stage, during a committee’s clause-by-clause review of a bill. Amendments may also be proposed at the Report Stage, once a bill returns to the House.
Once bill is sent to Committee, the clerk of the Committee provides the name of the Parliamentary Counsel (Legislation) responsible for the drafting of the amendments for a particular bill to the Members.
The legislative clerk serves all members of the Committee as a specialist of the process by which a bill becomes law. They are available to give, upon request from Members and their staff, advice on the admissibility of amendments when bills are referred to Committee. The legislative clerk organizes the amendments into packages for committee stage, reviews all the committee amendments for procedural admissibility and prepares draft rulings for the Chair. During clause-by-clause consideration of bills in committee, a legislative clerk is in attendance to assist the committee concerning any procedural issues that may arise. The legislative clerk can also provide Members with advice regarding the procedural admissibility of Report Stage amendments. When a bill is sent to committee, the clerk of the committee provides to the Members the name of the legislative clerk assigned to the bill.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO)
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) has a mandate to support Parliament and parliamentarians in holding the government to account for the good stewardship of public resources. The Federal Accountability Act of 2006 mandates the PBO to provide independent analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons regarding the state of the nation’s finances, the government estimates and trends in the national economy.
The enabling legislation also provides the PBO with a mandate to provide analytical support to any committee during its consideration of the estimates, as well as provide advice to any Member of Parliament regarding the financial cost of proposals.
Based on its mandate to study matters related to the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada, and the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner pursuant to the Conflict of Interest Act, the Committee has carried out, among other things, the following activities over the past five years:
report entitled The Growing Problem of Identity Theft and its Economic and Social Impact;
report on the study of Bill C-520, An Act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament;
report on the five-year statutory review of the Conflict of Interest Act;
report on the study of Bill C-461, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act (disclosure of information);
report entitled Privacy and Social Media in the Age of Big Data;
report on the expenses of the members of the Board of Directors and of senior management of the Old Port of Montréal Corporation;
report on the five-year statutory review of the Lobbying Act;
report on court actions concerning access to information and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation;
report entitled Follow-up on the Information Commissioner’s Report on the 2008–2009 Report Cards;
study on open government;
report entitled Mapping Privacy Protection in the Digital World: Study of the Privacy Implications of Street-level Imaging Applications;
study of the annual reports and main estimates of various commissioners’ offices;
study of key appointments to various commissioners’ offices.