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Results: 1 - 100 of 155
View Dane Lloyd Profile
CPC (AB)
You're not committing to provide that, so I'll move to my next question, Minister.
I did appreciate that the Canadian Press reported last May that you sent a letter to your cabinet colleagues asking them during this time of pandemic to put a high level of importance on access to information, accountability and transparency.
I was so shocked just this last October to see your colleague, the Minister of Health, say a few weeks ago that it wasn't really that important to her and that she didn't consider it a priority. Were you offended that the health minister basically ignored your letter from last May?
View Jean-Yves Duclos Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you for raising that point.
I think everyone, including all of my colleagues, understands the right that we all have to access information even though we are in a pandemic. At the same time, we all understand that the COVID-19 pandemic is creating enormous pressure on the public service. The public service is stretched and overstretched. Because of that, we also need to be understanding of the challenges they face in trying to meet their responsibility of providing—
View Dane Lloyd Profile
CPC (AB)
I understand that, Minister, but your colleague, the health minister, said it wasn't a priority at all. It's not a matter of allocating resources. She said it wasn't a priority. Were you offended that she just disregarded your request that they put resources into transparency?
View Jean-Yves Duclos Profile
Lib. (QC)
What I can tell you is that all departments and all institutions—a total of 131—now have at least partial and, in many cases, full abilities to provide access to information. All departments and all institutions at the federal level, including PHAC and Health Canada, do have the ability now to provide information.
View Jean-Yves Duclos Profile
Lib. (QC)
As of October 26, I can tell you that all departments and all institutions have at least a partial and, in many cases, a full ability to answer the access to information requests.
Jesse Zeman
View Jesse Zeman Profile
Jesse Zeman
2020-07-23 13:32
Yes, absolutely.
When we talk in the wildlife world provincially, if I want to know something about endangered mountain caribou, grizzly bears or anything, I can pick up the phone, send an email, or get a hold of someone and they will send me what they have. When we call the department, we are told, “Sorry, you have to ATIP that—I can't provide that because I'll get into trouble.”
In terms of this business of hidden data, even with this recovery potential assessment document that went through the peer review process, the public can't even see that. The public paid for that. It went through a rigorous scientific process, and the department refuses to list it. We're talking about fish that have gone from thousands down to 62 and 134, and the department cannot even show what the scientists said. I mean, it's unbelievable that this is happening in Canada.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thanks, Mr. Chair.
We've heard that there were no financial flags, and I presume no evaluation of WE's financial circumstances. I gather as well from previous questions that there was no examination of the liability issues that Volunteer Canada raised with us last week, so there are tons of questions I think that folks want to ask on this.
You'll recall, Mr. Shugart, under the SNC-Lavalin controversy, the Ethics Commissioner said that he was “unable to fully discharge the investigatory duties conferred upon me” because you refused to provide information that the Ethics Commissioner had asked for.
My question this time is: Will you fully co-operate with the Ethics Commissioner or any request that the Ethics Commissioner makes for documentation and for answers on this controversy?
Ian Shugart
View Ian Shugart Profile
Ian Shugart
2020-07-21 11:30
Within the bounds of my responsibility, Chair, of course I will co-operate with the Ethics Commissioner, as I would assert I did a year ago in relation to the previous issue.
The committee will recall that the government itself had given a waiver of many of the cabinet confidences. I indicated to the Ethics Commissioner that, in my judgment, there had been no demonstration of a greater public interest to weigh the cabinet confidences and invited him to follow up with specific requirements that he might have, and the Ethics Commissioner engaged in no further follow-up.
I will absolutely co-operate with the Ethics Commissioner within the bounds of my responsibilities as the secretary to the cabinet.
View Marty Morantz Profile
CPC (MB)
Okay. I appreciate the clarification. I just wanted to check on that.
A few days ago Commissioner Maynard said there were difficulties with some of the ATIP units. I believe you rely on ATIP and I'm not sure if it's for all or some of your information. Have you had any difficulties getting the information you need? I know the Parliamentary Budgetary Officer has been struggling to get information on IICP. I'm wondering if you're having similar issues.
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2020-06-22 13:00
I will ask Andrew to pipe up here if I misspeak or if I miss something.
We do not rely on the access to information legislation to obtain our information. We obtain our information through the Auditor General Act. When we run into issues, we work very hard with the departments to work those out. On occasion we have had to involve Parliament or PCO to help us sort them out.
To my knowledge, we don't have any of those issues right now, but I'll turn to Andrew to see if he wants to amend that or add to it.
Andrew Hayes
View Andrew Hayes Profile
Andrew Hayes
2020-06-22 13:01
I might add a few comments.
In terms of delays in accessing information, right now the biggest obstacle for us is with respect to secret information, as that information can't be transferred over the normal network. In some cases, both on the part of the department and on our part, we need to have people on the ground dealing with paper. I would say that's the most challenging right now.
As Karen was saying, we had the support of Parliament to get an order in council that expanded our access to cabinet confidences. We haven't encountered any problems accessing cabinet confidences. I'll just say the same challenges with secret documents exist there, so we experience delays in getting that information right now.
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 10:59
Thank you for inviting me to appear before you today to discuss accountability and access to information. Canadians have a right to request information from government through access to information requests to federal institutions. This is a quasi-constitutional right.
The right of access and the need for transparency have not been suspended during the pandemic. On the contrary, in this current extraordinary context, transparency and the well-being of the access system are more important than ever.
Major decisions with huge budget implications are being taken every day. New measures and programs related to the economy, public health and safety are being implemented on an almost daily basis. Canadians require information about how issues, policies and programs are being managed and developed in order to hold their government accountable.
Given that the Office of the Information Commissioner operates within the federal public service, I am very aware of the operational challenges the pandemic poses to federal institutions. Nevertheless, because transparency is the foundation of trust and because the access system is a pillar of government accountability, Canada’s leaders must take all necessary measures to ensure they are mitigating the impacts of the pandemic on the right of access. This includes ensuring a properly functioning access to information regime where decisions are being properly documented, information is well managed and access requests continue to be processed. I would like to outline for you just some of the factors that are creating barriers to the functioning of the system during the pandemic.
Most public servants have been working from home since the middle of March, not always by choice, and many have limited access to the networks or tools they normally have to do their jobs.
Providing access to information is not treated as an essential service to Canadians in almost all of the institutions' business continuity plans. In this situation, it can be challenging to manage information, capturing it and storing it in government repositories, especially when access to the network is limited for non-essential staff.
In many institutions, the transfer of information is outdated. Documents are still being sent by mail, CD-ROM and other mainly paper-based processes, which require access to scanners and photocopiers.
While some ATIP units are now fully operational, others have suspended operations completely. Most units are positioned somewhere between these two extremes. Such limited operations fundamentally restrict the government’s capacity to respond to access requests and to respect their new legislative obligation to proactively disclose some information.
There are other factors at play, but these are the major limitations that cannot be ignored, as they significantly affect transparency and delay, compromise and ultimately erode the government’s accountability to Canadians.
Although the pandemic has brought many new challenges, it has also created a window of opportunity to bring essential changes to the operating model of government and the culture that underlies it. I will continue to press the government for tangible action and results on this front.
In closing, I would like to reiterate that openness and transparency in government have never been more important than they are during the pandemic. The government needs to commit to proper resources and innovative solutions to ensure the right of access for all Canadians
Let’s not forget that access delayed is access denied.
Those are my opening remarks. I will be happy to respond to your questions now.
Thank you.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
Madam, thank you for joining us today. I appreciate all the work you're doing on behalf of Canadians and transparency.
On April 28, you wrote to the TBS president, warning that we were at a breaking point for federal transparency. How did he respond? Did he respond with any actual actions or just mere words?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:03
So far, I've had a couple of conversations with Monsieur Duclos and his team. They've been promising to.... They were saying they were taking this very seriously. They understand that this is a serious matter.
I've noticed that Monsieur Duclos has sent a letter to all institutions reminding them of their responsibilities and the need for openness and transparency in government. I am optimistic, but I am still waiting for actual, real, concrete actions.
As I said in my opening statement, some institutions have since reopened their business, so I think the message is getting through slowly but—
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
As of June 16, I got a copy of the institutions that have started. Funnily enough, Treasury Board, which is responsible for this, is not one of the ones actively doing their ATIPs, which is mind-boggling.
Last week we asked the chief information officer at TBS, who is nominally in charge of the ATIP process throughout the government. He was not even aware there was a problem. It's very disconcerting that we're just getting words.
What kinds of actions, besides expressions of concern, do we need from Minister Duclos and the government?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:05
We definitely need more resources in this area.
One of the problems is that working remotely has demonstrated other challenges, which I don't think people were aware of, with the types of systems they're using, the networks that are not secured. If you're dealing with highly secret or protected information and you're working from home, often our network is not secure enough to do that. It has brought up many challenges that, again, working from the office, were not something that people were aware of.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
Right, but this is not a new problem. We've been a heavy user of ATIPs, and we actually have an ATIP going back three years now that was only asking about specific information regarding one person advising PSPC. My colleague Tom Kmiec has 50 outstanding ATIPs, some going back three years. I laugh that one of my ATIPs will soon qualify for the MPs' pension, it's been so long.
This is not a recent occurrence. What do we need to do to light a fire under people, to make them understand that it is a basic right for Canadians and members of Parliament to access this?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:06
I think access has to be seen not as a suboperation activity of government. It has to be part of every public servant's commitment to Canadians.
We need more training and more resources. The number of access requests has increased by 225% in the last six years. The resources have not followed through. Information management has not been changed. We need to have better systems. There are so many little things that can be done that would have a huge impact.
I think the major thing is that the workload has increased, but when I talk to the community, they tell me they have the same number of analysts dealing with this. They just can't respond to all the demand.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
It sounds like the resources have stayed the same, and the “hide everything” attitude of the government has stayed the same.
Do we need to change your position so that your reporting structure reports to the Speaker, much like the Parliamentary Budget Officer does, so that there are completely autonomous actions from your department?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:08
I am completely independent of government. I report directly to Parliament, so I am reporting to you as an independent agent.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
Do you not report through the Treasury Board, through the minister?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:08
No. I don't report to any minister.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay, I am mistaken.
Thank you for your time.
View Majid Jowhari Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Madam Maynard. As this week is National Public Service Week, I want to acknowledge the great work that all of our public servants are doing, as well as the great work that you and your team are doing.
I have three questions. I'll try to make them short and stay within my five minutes.
In the OIC 2020-21 departmental plan, there is discussion about a five-year strategic plan, which came into effect April 1, 2020. Can you quickly highlight the key components of the five-year strategic plan?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:09
Yes. We decided to separate our strategic plan into three pillars.
We're spending a lot of effort on making sure that my office is the best place to work and is a good environment for our employees, with retention policies and a harassment-free environment, so there is an HR component and a resource component.
There's also an innovative component, because we, as with any other institution, have been struggling in making sure we are up to date on all of our software and in our processes.
The last pillar is transparency and credibility. I want to make sure, when I issue recommendations, decisions or orders, that people ultimately trust we are doing this on an unbiased basis and that our investigations are faster than they've ever been. As I said earlier, access delayed is access denied. The information is relevant now. If my investigations take years to be completed, there will be no trust in my own agency. I want to make sure that we're up to date on everything so that Canadians trust my work too.
View Majid Jowhari Profile
Lib. (ON)
When you talked about the second pillar, which was the innovative component, you talked about the systems. On April 28, you published a letter to the TBS minister, within which you specifically said, “the access to information system...is currently in a critical phase and may soon be beyond repair”.
Can you expand on what systems they are? What are we going to do if these systems fail, especially with the extra stress that's going to be on the systems during COVID?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:11
To give you an example, many institutions are still exchanging documents within the same department, from sector to sector, through mail, using paper, or if they send documents by email to, let's say, the analysts at the ATIP shop, they have to print those and scan them back into their software to start doing the redaction. There's a lot of wasted time transferring documents, which are electronic to start with, making them paper-based and then turning them back into an electronic version—
View Majid Jowhari Profile
Lib. (ON)
Transferring information, on top of resources and remote work is—
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:11
That's just one example.
We send information to requesters by mail or CD-ROM, and a lot of our requesters have been complaining about it for years now. Who has a CD-ROM reader anymore in their office?
View Majid Jowhari Profile
Lib. (ON)
Okay. I'll quickly switch topics.
Can you give me an idea of the number of ATIP requests you received prior to and after COVID-19, and what kind of responses you've had?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:12
Do you mean requests or complaints?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:12
Okay, because I'm dealing with the complaints too at TBS.
This year we've seen a small increase in complaints. With respect to COVID itself, strangely enough we haven't seen that many, but I think in most cases when there's a crisis, the complaints and requests come after everybody is coming down. It was the same thing with Lac-Mégantic. We saw a huge surge of requests and complaints after the crisis, so that's what I'm expecting. That's one of the things I highlighted for Mr. Duclos. We can't wait because there's going to be a surge of requests and complaints coming from the—
View Majid Jowhari Profile
Lib. (ON)
I have about 15 seconds left.
If you were going to make one recommendation, aside from resources and system updates, what would it be?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:13
It would be a change of culture.
View Julie Vignola Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for joining us today, Ms. Maynard.
You said earlier that little things should be done to improve the situation and do more. Can you give two or three examples of those simple little things to be done?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:13
The authorities should look into the way information is shared and the way it is managed.
First, people now use email a lot. When we receive an information access request on a specific topic, we can end up with 500 pages of text exchanged by email that has nothing to do with the decision or the policy as such. Since everything is done by email, the analyst in charge of revising the document must go over all the emails that were not saved properly or were not eliminated. Eight people can receive the same email, and they will respond to the same access request. What is really needed is better information management within government.
Another issue is that the systems are completely obsolete. A huge number of information transfers happens on paper. In 2020, people could definitely use systems such as Postel to transfer the information to the applicant instead of sending it by mail.
View Julie Vignola Profile
BQ (QC)
You were saying earlier that the number of requests has gone up by 225%. I assume that you expect the number of requests to explode again once the COVID-19 crisis is over.
I don't know whether it is possible to determine this, but, in absolute numbers, how many additional employees would the commission need to operate properly?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:15
Right now, the commission has 62 investigators. I have asked the government to add at least 20 to 25 investigators to keep us afloat.
Even if we had those additional resources, we would still have to negotiate with institutions that also have limited resources. People from those institutions must respond to Canadians' access requests, but also to the access request of my investigators for our investigations. They often have to choose between the two. That is a huge source of issues, as well.
I need additional resources, but the institutions surely also need them to meet the demand of Canadians and that of my office.
View Julie Vignola Profile
BQ (QC)
You said that a cultural change was necessary. In a few words, what kind of a change would you make to the culture?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:16
The Access to Information Act states that Canadians have the right to access information, with very few exceptions. When an organization receives my access to information requests, it wonders what information it cannot provide instead of wondering what information it can provide.
When I talk to ministers and deputy ministers, I see that they really want to develop a culture of transparency, but it is as if it was automatic. It would seem that because of the exceptions and exclusions provided under the act, they feel obligated to censor the documents they transmit.
In training for officials, it would be useful to show them that everything they do in their work is accessible to Canadians. That would help a cultural change occur. The emphasis should not be placed on what we don't want to give to Canadians, but on what we want to transmit to them. Officials' work is important. It would be amazing if that kind of a cultural change could be achieved.
View Julie Vignola Profile
BQ (QC)
You were talking about departments that also have limited resources. I am engaged in brainstorming with you today. Would it be a good idea to have investigators from the commission in every department?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:18
To maintain the commission's independence, there must be separation among operations.
It would be interesting for the Treasury Board to have a team of specialists that could be deployed in various departments during a crisis such as COVID-19. If an agency provided training across government—
View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
We've certainly heard, at least in my opinion, some pretty damning findings about the state of our federal government in its access to information. We've heard about still using paper copies, scanners, photocopies and CDs. I did a check on my computer here to see if I had a CD-ROM. I can't seem to find one, so here we are.
I'm taken aback, but at the same time, after hearing the testimonies of other people in this committee, I'm not all that surprised. You may recall that we had some departments report that they were still using DOS in their computer operating systems. I think what stuck out most was the idea that access delayed is access denied.
I have a question, and I'm unsure if the commissioner is able to answer this. How often do your ATIP requests bump up against the redacted clauses around cabinet confidentiality?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:19
It's not very often. It's a small percentage of our complaints. The problem with cabinet confidence is that we're not allowed to see the document to be confident that it is cabinet confidence, because according to the act, it's not within my jurisdiction to see those. This is one thing I will actually be recommending to change for the next legislative review, because there's not an independent review of the documents. If the department says that it's cabinet confidence, we have to take them at their word.
View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
Is it just a small percentage, though? It doesn't happen often.
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:20
Yes, it's a small percentage. I think most Canadians know that they're not entitled to see cabinet confidence documents, so they rarely complain about that specific exclusion unless it's part of a package. Most of the time, it's because it's not just the cabinet confidence but other documents being redacted that are part of the complaint.
View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
I know that in trying to pass a previous motion, that clause was put in. I anticipate that the clause will probably see itself revisited, today perhaps. I'm just curious around that. I'd like it if maybe at a future date we could have a study on that and figure out what the balance is between solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality versus parliamentary privilege and access to information, but I'll set that aside for the moment.
You had stated—or I think I heard you state at least—that not every department had in its departmental or operational plan a focus on access to information. Is that correct?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:21
View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
What role would the Minister of Digital Government have in that? In reviewing the mandate letter, I feel like she's supposed to work with departments to develop solutions and use new tools. All the language in the mandate letter for the Minister of Digital Government suggests that this should be a horizontal priority across all departments. Would you care to comment on that?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:22
I agree with you. It's part of the mandate letters. Openness and transparency are also part of the mandate letters of all the ministers, which I was pleased to see. However, there is a difference between the talk and the action. As you may know, government is very slow at making changes because we have so many steps to go through for security purposes, and we don't want to have breaches. Sometimes, though, I think government needs to make bold decisions, take a little bit of risk, and in access, transparency and innovation, I think it's the right time to do this.
View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
Forgive me for oversimplifying this, but what struck me in moving a previous motion was that it was suggested to me that perhaps the information might be in a box in a warehouse somewhere in a paper copy. At least with my very basic understanding of technology, I can't help but think that if I'm typing something up in a digital document that becomes paper, that digital document should have—in systems, in principle—a perpetuity that would allow it to have a digital access after it's completion.
Is it a matter of there just not being systems in place where...? I know we have our own government files that we can access, but how is it that we have a digital origin of a file, and then an analog paper finish of the file? It doesn't make any sense to me at all.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
Great. Thanks, again.
I have this vision of our ATIP process being like the end of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, when they put the ark of the covenant in this great, massive warehouse never to be seen again.
Have you started any investigations into departments that are skirting ATIP obligations?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:24
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:24
We actually started one investigation. I initiated an investigation with Canadian Heritage because there was a complaint with respect to their response to an access request, which said that the ATIP office was closed during the pandemic.
I've been keeping an eye on other institutions that are struggling to start. We were saying that now most institutions are fully operational or partially operational. However, some operations are basically somebody answering the phone and talking to requesters, because they don't have access to anything.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
Yes. I've done a count and 46 are operational, almost all of them the smallest of the departments. Then 165 are almost all the major departments, and again, surprisingly enough, the Treasury Board is not at capacity.
How far behind do you think we are? Do you think departments are going to use COVID as a further excuse not to comply and not to release information?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:25
We definitely have seen COVID being used as a reason not to respond to some of my investigations. We've seen COVID used to ask for extensions.
That's part of our investigation right now: What is going to be the impact? It's going to be difficult at this point to know the full impact. Definitely there will be some delays and augmentation of complaints and, unfortunately, delays in people getting their information.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
Yes, I would say that on 90% of the ATIPs we've done in the last five years, we get an automatic response asking for an extension, even on the simplest of things. You're right. It is a cultural thing.
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:26
It's resources.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
With three years for the simplest stuff, I think it's a lot more than resources. I think resources...but it can be a cultural denial of transparency.
There was a comment made by the acting chief information officer that, when we come out of COVID, there's going to be a backlog of activities like ATIPs that will have to be addressed on a priority basis. It concerns me greatly that someone is going to be deciding which ATIPs are a priority and which are not.
How do we get past that, where we have some arbitrary person deciding that this ATIP takes priority?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:27
I don't know what to say to that.
I believe that every department should have their ATIP access units as part of their essential services, especially when they're dealing with information related to a crisis like this. Either it should be through ATIP or it should be proactively disclosed. When I talk about proactive disclosure, it's really providing information without having to wait for it to be requested.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
I agree with you 100%.
Mr. Chair, how much time do I have?
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you again for everything you're doing. It's not easy tilting against the windmill, but those of us on the transparency fighting front appreciate everything you do.
View Irek Kusmierczyk Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you very much, Commissioner, for fielding these questions and for your forthright and very comprehensive responses as well.
As a city councillor in Windsor, I was proud of the fact that I was the first and only city councillor to publish my entire voting record online. I feel that transparency and accountability are absolutely cornerstones even when they are not required. It's something that we should be very open and very proactive about.
I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak with you here today.
My question is this. You had stressed in your appearance in front of the House of Commons standing committee on access to information, on March 11, that additional resources are required across the access to information systems. You stressed that the resources available to federal institutions are insufficient. How do you measure whether there are sufficient resources or not? How do you measure that in terms of where the resources need to be? What do you look at? What metrics, performance metrics, do you look at?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:29
For my own agency, we've had the same budget with the same number of employees for the last six years, and our complaints have increased by 25% every year. If you're not able to respond to the demand, I guess that's one way to look at it.
Normally, my office receives 2,400 complaints a year. In the last three years, we've had about 2,400 complaints each year. Last year, I received 6,000 complaints, mainly about delays and extensions, and a lot of them were related to one institution, which is IRCC. You may not be aware of this, but IRCC—Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada—is receiving approximately 100,000 requests a year. These are requests from people asking for the status of their immigration or refugee files.
We've started a systemic investigation with respect to that particular institution because we've realized there is definitely a problem that is more than just a one on one. It's definitely a systemic problem, but to start a systemic investigation also requires a lot of resources. It's a long-term thing. My operational budget has not followed through with the demand, the requests and the complaints that we're receiving. We have been receiving temporary funding for the last three years. This year, I've asked for that funding to at least be permanent so that I can hire people, train them and retain them for the long term.
View Irek Kusmierczyk Profile
Lib. (ON)
I appreciate, Commissioner, that the number of complaints has increased, but do you measure, for example, your office's response time? Are you able to provide metrics in terms of how long it takes you to close a file or what the backlog is, something that gives us a sense, again, that there aren't enough resources to keep up with the demand? Are there metrics that your office maintains and that you can share with us, in terms of your own performance? I'm just curious.
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:31
Yes. Like any other institution in government, we have a department plan and a department report. Every year, we provide how we did, what our priorities were and how we successfully closed files. We have some metrics on timelines. Luckily, we've been very good at reducing our timelines, even with the smaller resources. We've been making changes in the last two years, and last year was a record year: We closed 5,500 complaints, whereas in previous years it was around 1,600 to 1,800.
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:32
We've done very, very well with our own changes, as I said earlier, making innovative changes too, but at some point there is only so much we can do. At some point, we need more bodies to do the work.
View Irek Kusmierczyk Profile
Lib. (ON)
I understand completely. I know, Commissioner, for example, that between February and May there were 31,000 online access to information requests. As you mentioned, about two-thirds of those went to IRCC. Do you have in your mind—
View Ziad Aboultaif Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Madam Maynard. It is wonderful to hear what you have to say. You mentioned a change of culture. I'm going to go back to that a bit. I guess my question is twofold.
The first thing is that you need more resources and you need more bodies, basically. You've requested that 20 to 25 people be added to your department. On the other side, we have technology and digitizing, which are supposed to help you to access information and get through it faster than you could if you had to search manually. How do you envision the structure of your department in the next little while to be able to achieve what you need to in order to satisfy all the ATIP requests as needed?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:33
Speaking for my own institution, where we're dealing with complaints about access requests, I can say that we've been working really hard to have a better innovative system. We are now scanning every document so that every file we receive is accessible electronically. This is one of the reasons that my entire office, 110 people, is working from home remotely during COVID, and we haven't stopped working remotely since March 13.
We've been able to continue our work. Clearly, I'm in a very privileged situation because my office is small. I'm sure my colleagues who have thousands of employees have more challenges than I do.
As you say, we need to look at the management of information, where the information is stored, and, if it's stored electronically as I think Mr. McCauley said earlier, why it has to become paper to be back in the system for the access software. Let's give ATIP analysts software with which they can digitally transfer and access this information without having to resort to paper and scanning and photocopiers.
This seems to be an easy solution, but unfortunately, in the government these things take time.
There's also another issue we just became aware of during COVID. A lot of the software for access redaction is put on the secret servers of the institution because once in a while you have a document that is secret. Because it's on the secret server, it's completely inaccessible remotely. They should really remove that and put it on a protected server so it would be accessible remotely. The one in 100 files that are secret could have a separate system.
Those are the kinds of little things that have come up because we have had to work remotely. I'm hoping the institutions will react to that, because there are some solutions that are easy to implement.
View Ziad Aboultaif Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you very much for the answer.
We are way behind with digitizing our system compared with what similar economies and countries similar to ours in size, population and so forth have done. A government is like a very large ship, and it's very hard to turn on an angle or change direction.
For you, the challenge is that you're trying to prepare the infrastructure by basically scanning everything and having everything accessible electronically so you can easily get to the information.
View Francis Drouin Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Maynard, thank you very much for joining us today.
In answering a question, you said that the number of access to information requests had increased by 225% over the past six years.
Have you noticed the same trend with regard to complaints submitted to your office? Have they increased by 225%?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:37
No. Only 1% of all annual requests are related to a complaint. The tangent is the same every year. We have seen an increase of about 25% annually, in addition to normal complaints. So the 1% becomes 1.25%, then 1.5%. It is a gradual increase. It is always going up.
View Francis Drouin Profile
Lib. (ON)
Okay.
Before I became a member, I was working in trade. Sometimes, different services would send me a note related to an access to information requests. I would be asked whether we could divulge certain information or not. I was personally dealing with other clients. So, it was not down to me to respond to them, but that was part of the emails.
Do you have advice from third parties? Do you think that those that deal with the government should have access to that information, which should be completely open and available to the public? Should we perhaps rather keep certain reserves in terms of what should be accessible to Canadians?
Caroline Maynard
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Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:38
Consultations with third parties create tremendous delays, as do consultations among departments. There currently seems to be a trend toward adding a provision to contracts with third parties to specify that all information will be divulged or accessible. Of course, there are certain exceptions, including when information could cause irreparable harm to businesses, such as trade secrets.
There is still room for exceptions and exclusions, but we can limit them. The new legislative review will undoubtedly open the door to those types of recommendations.
View Francis Drouin Profile
Lib. (ON)
In procurement, for example, talking to one department or another creates trade difficulties, as there could be divulgence to a competitor from the market where the client is trying to sell their product. Those issues are always there.
I think that I misunderstood one of your comments because of the interpretation. When it comes to the so-called secret documents, you talked about putting them on the Protected B server. Should secret documents be put on that server or only once they have been censored?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:40
No, that's not what I was trying to say.
The access to information software that enables us to work on documents is often part of the secret network. Since it is on the secret network, people who work from home right now have no access to their main work tool. If the software was on the Protected B network, people could have access to the majority of their tools and documents from home.
That creates a new problem that we did not predict when we were working at the office. Working from home is one of the issues.
View Xavier Barsalou-Duval Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Maynard, thank you for being with us today. We are very happy about it. Your presence was highly anticipated, and we would even like to hear from you more often.
I don't have a lot of time, but I have an important question for you.
This is my second term as a member of Parliament. I must tell you that I have had some rather painful experiences related to the Access to Information Act.
In terms of the requests I submitted during my first term, I would say that I obtained a response to about half of them. That was a few years ago, after all.
As for those I have submitted during my current term, I have received no response. The only times we obtain responses quickly is when the request is refused. In those cases, we obtain responses within 24 or 48 hours. We are told that the act does not allow that information to be provided. But when it isn't a refusal, it takes forever.
Are you worried by this long and cumbersome process?
Do you have statistics on the waiting time by department?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:42
If you look at the annual report for each year, you will see that we have statistics for different departments. The delays are absolutely worrisome. As I was saying earlier, the number of complaints received last year relative to delays and extensions has increased tremendously.
I don't think people realize that an institution cannot decide not to respond. That is what we have been trying to show since the beginning of the pandemic. The act provides for a 30-day time frame. If people do not obtain a response during that time frame, the institution must advise them before the 30th day that it will request an extension. If people do not get that kind of a response from an institution, the institution is already not meeting its obligations under the act.
View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you very much.
I think there are some pretty extensive expectations and standards that are rolled out in the “Open and Accountable Government” document, 2015, specifically annex C, which relates to “Access to Information and Administrative Matters”, Ms. Maynard. This states that “Ministers have direct administrative responsibilities flowing from their ministerial duties” on access to information.
Would you care to comment on whether our government is actively living up to this in relation to its culture?
Caroline Maynard
View Caroline Maynard Profile
Caroline Maynard
2020-06-19 11:44
It's difficult to tell. Every department is very different. I've been having great success collaborating with some leaders, and others less so. I find that the analysts, the coordinators, the people working in access believe in transparency and really want to provide information. The top leaders are often saying the right things too. I think there is an issue between the two. Middle management, I think, is often the one protecting the information or worried about the information coming out. There is also still a problem of fear of being embarrassed by the information, and embarrassment is not an exclusion under the act.
I think we need to really connect the two extremes and make sure that people know that it is fine, it is good to provide the information. This is how we get trust from Canadians that our decisions are being made properly, fiscally responsibly. Yes, we still have some issues in some departments, and some are better than others, that's for sure.
View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
I really appreciate your candour and your openness to answer this stuff. I certainly look forward to having you back before this committee for future studies.
Michael A. Dagg
View Michael A. Dagg Profile
Michael A. Dagg
2020-06-19 11:49
The committee members should know that I've been involved with access to information for most of my career. I'm basically a professional user of the Access to Information Act. It's with that in mind that I've had a lot of experience in all kinds of things, including in one case, in which I took the government to the Supreme Court of Canada. There were also other court cases in which I was involved, which gave me a sense of the need to push the government once in a while.
Since I've provided the clerk with a summary of my presentation, I'll simply say that access is an important right, but a lot of people haven't necessarily gotten around to learning the ropes of how to put a request in writing and word it properly. I've taken years to learn the details.
In my experience, access does work and it is important as a right for citizens, but there are a lot of problems. COVID certainly created the biggest problem, which is uncertainty, and I have made some requests that God knows when I will get an answer to.
I've given examples from four cases in my presentation. One is dealing with $500 million to $1 billion in unpaid taxes. I've been working on this one for several years, and I've had all kinds of hassles about this one. The American whistle-blower who brought it to my attention is available to give testimony if people want it. I spoke with him recently.
The other one is Project Anecdote. This is an RCMP investigation that took 10 years, from 1993 to 2003. They spent lots of resources, but at the very end they didn't charge anybody. Now, apparently, according to the information I had, there was corruption and money laundering, yet they found nothing. That's why I'm using access as my right as a citizen to find out why they don't want to collect maybe a billion dollars. I feel I'm entitled to an explanation as to why they chose not to do it. If there's a reason, let's see it, but so far nobody has any records. This ties into the problems with this one, because they told me initially that I might have to wait 800 years to get the answer. Then they said, oh, we'll revise it to 2098. The point is, that's still well beyond my lifetime.
There's a complaint to the commissioner about this, but I haven't heard back on it.
This specific request is particularly problematic because the stuff that goes to the archives is normally public, and the 20-year rule should have applied for the RCMP stuff up to the year 2000. That should have all been disclosable, but it's not, so what's going on? I provided the members of the committee with a letter that a third party had received saying that this information could have been provided with 30 days of work by four people. Now they tell me 30 days, 80 years, or 800 years. Which is it? I don't know.
The other thing the committee should know is that in the case of Project Anecdote, the court ordered the archivist of Canada to show up in court in Gatineau, Quebec, in 2015. The archivist defied a court order and didn't provide the information as required by law, so there's something sensitive about this particular file.
The final thing I would say is about the third case I had. I was surprised that the Canadian citizen—he had kids who were born in the States but he and his wife were born in Canada—was denied access to records to which he was entitled by virtue of a court order, which the Department of Immigration didn't want to accept. Eventually, when the commissioner intervened, the problem was resolved. The thing is, he's still having delays caused by whatever because he has four children, but he only applied for the first child. So we have to sit and watch what's happening.
As a result of this delay, he was forced to leave Canada. People should know that.
The final thing in my four points here—
Michael A. Dagg
View Michael A. Dagg Profile
Michael A. Dagg
2020-06-19 11:54
Okay.
There are contracting irregularities. I have made some requests, but they're all giving delays.
Go ahead for questions. I can answer questions in French as well.
Allan Cutler
View Allan Cutler Profile
Allan Cutler
2020-06-19 11:54
Like Mr. Dagg, I'd like to thank you for inviting me to testify. Mr. Dagg and I are both members of Anti-Corruption and Accountability Canada, which is an organization that aids whistle-blowers in exposing wrongdoing and encourages accountability and openness in government. You're going to hear from Sean Holman. Sean and I are both members of the COVID-19 Accountability Group, a coalition of experts to recommend reforms to the whistle-blowing.
Before I start, I'd like to thank Madame Maynard for having testified. I understand her problems and the stresses of her job better than I did before.
I'm going to give a few examples of access to information problems. I realize that's the focus. They started before COVID but they still go on. It's a general summary, and I've given a more specific summary. First off, let's just say that departments are not worried about ATIP legislation. When I talk to them—and Mr. Dagg may confirm this—bluntly in a conversation they simply say that a complaint to the OIC just gives them more time. In fact, in at least a couple of cases, I have been told that my request is behind all the complaints to the OIC, so I'm going to have to just wait. In other words, I'll have to complain to the OIC if I want to get my situation resolved.
ATIP officers know they can delay ATIPs. Why? Because they can simply keep asking you questions and demanding clarifications and saying they don't understand the question. As a specific example, I had a question that said, “Tell me why you did not take any action for six years.” I used the two dates. They came back to me and said they didn't understand the question. Finally I put a complaint in to the OIC because they didn't understand a simple question.
Departments can do whatever they want. They end up making exceptions under the law, which have no pertinence, as the commissioner would testify. Once something goes to OIC, they suddenly say it doesn't apply, so they can release the data.
Legally I understand that they are required to help the person who's the applicant, but their interest is in the department. They don't want to help the applicant.
As Mr. McCauley mentioned, extension beyond the 30-day statutory limit is the norm. In fact, 90 days is the norm. That's 120 days or a four-month delay. That is the norm for the request.
I'm going to finish by stating that I've given you examples of two very specific access requests. One is on the concealment of the asbestos problem at Kent Institution in B.C. We know the documents are there, but they have been denying the documents.
The other one is the Department of Justice concealing records they've had in their possession for 12 years. How much time do I still have?
Allan Cutler
View Allan Cutler Profile
Allan Cutler
2020-06-19 11:58
Okay. I'll just say that Mr. Brad Birkenfeld gave them documents in 2008. From 2008 to 2014, Justice concealed those documents.
When Mr. Dagg and I asked for information on those documents, suddenly they had information that they had to deal with that was sensitive. If you sit on a file for six years, it cannot have sensitive information.
Thank you.
Sean Holman
View Sean Holman Profile
Sean Holman
2020-06-19 11:59
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I would also like to thank the committee for inviting me here to testify on this most important of issues.
As mentioned, I'm a journalism professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, where my research focuses on why we value information in democracies and the history of our country's freedom of information laws.
I am also, along with Mr. Cutler, a member of the Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group, an ad hoc coalition of experts who joined together earlier this spring to recommend reforms to Canada's whistle-blowing and freedom of information laws within the context of the pandemic.
It's from these two places that I will be speaking today.
I would like to begin by briefly discussing the crucial importance of information to Canadians at this moment in history. Generally speaking, we value information for two reasons—control and certainty. With information, we are able to make better decisions about the world around us, whether it's in the voting booth or the checkout line, thereby controlling public and private institutions. That information can also make us feel more certain about the world because it allows us to better understand it.
During an emergency, the need for information accelerates because Canadians want to make the best possible decisions to keep themselves safe. They also want to ensure that governments and corporations are doing the same thing on their behalf, especially when it involves a significant expenditure of taxpayer dollars.
The costs of not providing this information are severe in the post-truth era we find ourselves living in. That's because if there is an information gap, there's a substantial risk it will be filled with misinformation and disinformation.
The Government of Canada has in some ways tried to provide such information, but in other ways there are numerous documented instances of it failing to do so. Because of our broken access to information system, there is no easy or quick means for Canadians to challenge these refusals and obtain records or data the government won't voluntarily disclose, which was the entire point behind the Access to Information Act in the first place.
That's why the Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group has recommended the government be legally required to proactively release a number of broad categories of unredacted records within 15 days of their being prepared, including health and safety inspection reports, public health research and government contracts.
We are also recommending major reforms to Canada's whistle-blower law as this committee has done in the past. Last month we saw how it took Canadian soldiers to blow the whistle on deplorable conditions in Ontario nursing homes. At the time, Premier Ford said that was because you find cracks in the system by living the system around the clock every single day. In making that statement, he has eloquently articulated why we need to better protect public and private employees who see wrongdoing in their workplaces.
We recognize that such reforms, which should include financial protection for whistle-blowers, will take time, and that's why we're calling on the government to publicly declare that it will protect anyone who reports public and private sector wrongdoing related to the crisis. We further recommend the creation of a COVID-19 ombudsperson who can provide advice and support for these whistle-blowers.
Canada's Access to Information Act currently ranks 57th compared to 127 other similar laws around the world. Its Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act has been criticized for being in violation of international best practices. It shouldn't take the COVID-19 crisis to change this. However, if it does, such reforms will help preserve evidence-based democratic decision-making at a time when it is under threat.
I would urge the members of this committee to take immediate action on this very important issue.
Thank you.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
Gentlemen, welcome.
Mr. Cutler, welcome back. It's good to see you. I want to say thanks for all the great work you did on the whistle-blower report we did, which unfortunately has not been acted upon. We've had four different Treasury Board presidents since then, and not one of them has taken up the cause, but I appreciate that you're still fighting for it.
Mr. Holman, it's good to see you again.
Mr. Dagg, thanks for your contribution.
I'll ask this to the three of you: What kind of teeth do we need to add to our laws so that these ATIPs can be put out in a timely fashion?
We heard Mr. Cutler comment about the delaying tactics of these ATIP bureaucrats. I actually saw the email that came out saying there would be an 800-year wait for the Operation Anecdote information.
What do we need to do to change the culture or to penalize people who are violating the access-to-information regime we have, which is meant to protect Canadians?
Sean Holman
View Sean Holman Profile
Sean Holman
2020-06-19 12:05
That's a really good question.
I think one of the first things we need to do is to take away the government's teeth.
What the government has demonstrated over time is that it cannot be trusted with the existing exemptions and exclusions in the Access to Information Act. I think there is an urgent need to review those exemptions and exclusions, and also to establish a legal requirement that certain broad classes of information be released without going through the access to information process, because really, those exemptions and exclusions are being used as a shield against accountability.
Another thing I would recommend, which the COVID-19 Accountability Group has recommended, is that the performance pay for the heads of public bodies or their unelected designates be tied to releasing information and following through on our freedom of information laws that exist.
I think those two things really help significantly improve the situation when it comes to freedom of information in Canada and truly create an open-by-default government.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
That's great.
Only 46 of 211 government agencies are actually currently fulfilling the ATIP rules. One that is missing from the list of those doing ATIPs is the Treasury Board, which is responsible for ATIPs.
What kind of message is it sending to all of our departments when the chief information officer of the Treasury Board appeared in front of our committee and didn't even know it was an issue, and his own department is not even fulfilling the ATIP responsibilities?
Sean Holman
View Sean Holman Profile
Sean Holman
2020-06-19 12:07
It sends a very poor message, obviously.
This has been the history of governments in Canada. Opposition parties promise that when they come into power they will be more open and accountable than their predecessors. When they actually get into power, what we have seen is that the seduction of secrecy is too much to resist.
We need to stop treating this as a partisan issue. We need to treat this as an issue of democracy that should unify us all so that we can better serve the public and make better decisions as a country about some of the most pressing problems of our time.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
I agree with you, and it's been an issue with past governments as well.
I was hoping our whistle-blower report would actually be taken up because it would handcuff the current government but future governments as well. Whether it be a Conservative or an NDP government, everyone would be locked in to respecting whistle-blowers.
Sean Holman
View Sean Holman Profile
Sean Holman
2020-06-19 12:08
Absolutely.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
What provinces are doing a good job right now with ATIPs?
Sean Holman
View Sean Holman Profile
Sean Holman
2020-06-19 12:08
I would say that very few provinces are doing a good job when it comes to ATIPs. This is a problem that exists across Canada. It is not exclusive to the federal government.
Part of the reason is that all our laws come from essentially the same primal pool from the late seventies and early eighties. It's well past time that we actually change that.
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