Department of Finance Canada (Re), 2022 OIC 19
OIC file number: 5820-01615
Institution file number: A-2020-00145
The complainant alleged that the Department of Finance Canada (Finance) failed to respond to a request for information within the time limits set out in the Access to Information Act.
The Information Commissioner found that the delay in responding to the requests mainly rests with Finance’s Office of Primary Interest, the Federal-Provincial Relations and Social Policy Branch, which has failed to provide records to Finance’s Access to Information and Privacy office in a timely fashion.
The Information Commissioner ordered the Minister of Finance to provide a final response to the request for information submitted on July 22, 2020 forthwith.
Finance gave notice that it would be implementing the order and respond to the request on a priority basis.
The complaint is well founded.
 The complainant alleged that the Department of Finance Canada (Finance) failed to respond to a request for information within the time limits set out in the Access to Information Act.
 On July 22, 2020, Finance received an access to information request for all records related to the preparation and publishing of the April 22, 2020, Department of Finance backgrounder entitled "Support for Students and Recent Graduates Impacted by COVID-19".
 While Finance sought clarifications from the requestor and put the request on hold for 56 days, the institution did not claim any extension and the due date remained October 16, 2020.
 The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) received the complaint on October 16, 2020.
Subsection 10(3): deemed refusal of access
 Under subsection 10(3), when institutions do not respond to an access request within either 30 days or at the end of a period for which they validly extended the time they had to respond, they are deemed to have refused access to the requested records.
 During the investigation, Finance explained that three program areas have provided records in response to this request. Consultations on Cabinet Confidences where anticipated to be complete by January 28, 2022 whereas consultations the Privy Council Office and Employment and Social Development Canada would conclude on March 7, 2022. Taking into account the final approval process, Finance was aiming for a completion date of March 28, 2022.
 In this case, it is clear that the delay in responding to the requests mainly rests with Finance’s Office of Primary Interest, the Federal-Provincial Relations and Social Policy Branch, which has failed to provide records to Finance’s Access to Information and Privacy office in a timely fashion, and with complete disregard for any legislated due dates.
 While I understand the challenges that institutions face when managing competing legislative priorities, the fact that it has been over a year and a half and this request has not been responded to, is unacceptable. The ongoing delay is not consistent with the law, places the credibility of the access system in question, and fails to uphold the quasi-constitutional rights of Canadians.
 Based on the above, and given that Finance has failed to respond to the request by the legislated due date, Finance is deemed to have refused access pursuant to subsection 10(3) of the Act. There is unfortunately no legislative timelines for consultations and it should be noted that while consultations are “a nice to have”, they are not mandatory. Accordingly, I find that any additional day that is taken to respond to this request is another day by which the complainant’s rights of access are being denied. Finance must strive to do better.
 The complaint is well founded.
Under subsection 36.1(1) of the Act, I order the Minister of Finance to:
- Provide a final response to the request for information submitted on July 22, 2020 forthwith; and,
- Email a copy of the response letter to the Office of the Information Commissioner’s Registrar (Greffe-Registry@oic-ci.gc.ca).
On January 21, 2022, I issued my initial report to the Minister of Finance setting out my intended order.
On February 17, 2022, the Deputy Minister of Finance responded on behalf of the Minister and gave me notice that Finance would be implementing my order and respond to the request on a priority basis.
Section 41 of the Act provides a right to any person who receives this report to apply to the Federal Court for a review. Complainants and institutions must apply for this review within 35 business days after the date of this report. The person who applies for a review must serve a copy of the application for review to the relevant parties, as per section 43. If no one applies for a review by this deadline, this order takes effect on the 36th business day after the date of this report.