Nearly a third of federal access to information requests aren’t being responded to within the timelines provided for in law and the problem is getting worse, Canada’s access to information watchdog told members of Parliament Wednesday.
Testifying before the House of Commons committee on access to information, privacy and ethics, Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard said that — even taking extensions into account — the government is missing 30 per cent of its deadlines for fulfilling information requests.
Maynard said government officials should be held responsible for the way their institutions uphold what she described as Canadians’ quasi-constitutional right to access government records.
“In my meetings with ministers and senior officials, I often hear about a shared commitment to the right of access. But at the end of the day, actions speak louder than words,” Maynard told MPs in her opening remarks. “Leaders must ensure that their institutions live up to legislative obligations.”
Maynard said access to information law should be updated to allow individuals to request cabinet confidences and information from the offices of cabinet ministers and the prime minister. Currently, they are excluded from the act.
She said steps could be taken to improve the access to information system without changing the law, through improved leadership, innovation, more resources and the declassification of records.
In her most recent annual report, made public in June, Maynard said there had been a 70 per cent increase in complaints to her office over the previous year.
Maynard also called on the government to put in place the necessary resources to allow government institutions to meet their obligations under information access law.
“Government institutions can no longer use COVID-19 as an excuse for not living up to their obligations in the area of access to information,” Maynard wrote in her annual report.