2015-2016 4. Advising Parliament
As an Agent of Parliament, the Commissioner provides advice to Parliament on important access-related matters and on the functioning of her office to ensure sufficient ongoing oversight of the access system.
Special report to Parliament: Investigation into an access to information request for the Long-gun Registry
On May 7, 2015, Bill C-59, the Economic Action Plan 2015 Act, No. 1 was introduced in Parliament. Included in this bill were retroactive amendments to the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act (ELRA). (Background: “Access to information: Freedom of expression and the rule of law”).
On May 14, 2015, the Commissioner tabled in Parliament her special report on her investigation into the treatment by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) of an access to information request for the data in the national long-gun registry.
On June 2, 2015, the Commissioner appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance as part of its study of Bill C-59 to discuss the division of the bill that amended the ELRA.
The following day, June 3, 2015, the Commissioner appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance to discuss the same division of Bill C-59. Representatives from the RCMP also appeared on the same issue.
At both of these appearances, the Commissioner voiced her serious concerns with the division of Bill C-59 that amended the ELRA. She advised the committees about the implications of passing this legislation without amendment, warning that, if passed, this legislation would retroactively quash Canadians’ right of access and the government’s obligations under the Access to Information Act.
Bill C-59 was passed on June 23, 2015 without amendment (for more details, see “Access to long-gun registry information and challenge to the constitutionality of the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act”).
On May 25, 2015, the Commissioner appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (ETHI) to discuss the Main Estimates for the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada for 2015–2016. The Main Estimates are a summary of the estimated financial requirements for a federal department or agency in a particular expenditure category.
During this appearance, the Commissioner discussed her budget and priorities, and expressed concern that, in the face of a growing workload, her current funding level was having an impact on her ability to carry out her mandate and to face contingencies. She had voiced similar concerns before this same committee in May and December 2014.
The Committee’s vote for the program expenditure of the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada was agreed to on division.
Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics committee: Setting priorities
In February 23, 2016, the Commissioner was invited to appear at a briefing session before the newly constituted ETHI committee, alongside three of her fellow agents of Parliament that report to this same committee (the Privacy, Lobbying, and Conflict of Interest and Ethics commissioners). Each commissioner was asked to identify priorities for the Committee to study going forward.
The Information Commissioner’s recommendation to the Committee was to give priority to the modernization of the Access to Information Act. She advocated that the Act needs to be amended so that it strikes the right balance between the public’s right to know and the government’s need to protect limited and specific information.
The Committee decided to undertake a study of the Access to Information Act.
Parliamentary study of the Access to Information Act
On February 25, 2016, the ETHI committee commenced its study of the Access to Information Act. The Information Commissioner was the first witness to appear as part of the Committee’s study. During this appearance the Commissioner discussed her special report Striking the Right Balance for Transparency: Recommendations to modernize the Access to Information Act.
On March 22, 2016 also made a further written submission to the Committee, at their request, to elaborate on her recommendation that the Act include criteria for determining which institutions should be subject to the Act.
As part of its study, the Committee has subsequently met with some provincial commissioners, representatives from government and other stakeholders. The Commissioner has also been invited to appear before the Committee for a second time on May 19, 2016.
The Committee intends to table its report before the House of Commons recesses for the summer.
Other parliamentary activities
Library of Parliament seminar
On May 29, 2015, the Commissioner gave a seminar at the Library of Parliament on her special report Striking the Right Balance for Transparency: Recommendations to modernize the Access to Information Act. Parliamentarians and their employees were invited to attend, as were employees of the Senate and the House of Commons and the Library of Parliament.
The Commissioner’s presentation documented the multiple challenges and deficiencies with the Access to Information Act. She gave a high level summary of the 85 recommendations she made in her report to modernize the Act.
Orientation for new members of Parliament on the agents of Parliament
As a result of the October 19, 2015 election, approximately 200 individuals were elected to the House of Commons who had never served as members of Parliament (MPs) before. In light of this large cohort of new MPs, the Commissioner proposed to the Library of Parliament that it consider providing the new MPs a seminar focused on the agents of Parliament during their orientation. The Library agreed and invited the Commissioner and her fellow agents of Parliament to give a panel discussion to the new MPs on February 19, 2016.
Luncheon with the Speaker of the House of Commons
On February 25, 2016, the Commissioner had the pleasure to attend a luncheon with the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Honourable Geoff Regan, alongside her fellow agents of Parliament.