As I prepare to turn off my computer and exit the incredible job of Information Commissioner of Canada, I want to leave a message to Canadians.
That message is: Demand More.
That’s the principle that has guided me throughout the ten plus years I’ve devoted to access to information.
Demand more from your government. More openness, more transparency, more access.
The right of access plays the vital role of holding government to account.
It is a necessary prerequisite to transparency, accountability and public engagement.
It is, in short, a critical pillar of our democracy.
That’s why we need to ensure that Canadians can access government records on spending, policies, historical records and much more.
I really believe that we all could benefit from the increased level of scrutiny that a truly modernized and progressive Access to Information Act could bring to those who hold positions of power in our democracy.
That’s the type of legislative reform I’ve championed as I’ve worked to safeguard and enhance the right of access in this country.
Throughout my time as Information Commissioner, I have used all the means at my disposal to affect change. And I’m proud of the work I’ve done with the support of the incredibly devoted team at the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada:
- I oversaw the work of the OIC team in completing over 15000 investigations.
- I initiated or intervened in important court cases that have bolstered the right of access by eliminating certain fees, reducing how long it takes to receive records, and clarifying the Commissioner’s ability to independently oversee government’s decisions on access to information requests. Other cases that have gone before the Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada have created important jurisprudence that will continue to guide institutions for years to come.
- I issued report cards to highlight where institutions are falling short and I’ve conducted systemic investigations in a number of areas, on topics such as delays stemming from consultations, CAIRS (the Coordination of Access to Information Requests System),and Instant messaging and PIN to PIN communications . In addition, I have issued a major report on the long gun registry as well as two reports on political interference.
- I modernized the office’s investigative practices, and how it interacts with Canadians, making the process of submitting access to information complaints easier by launching an online complaint form.
- I issued recommendations on how to modernize the Access to Information Act, and when legislation was introduced that fell short, I put forward recommendations on how to improve it.
- In addition to appearing before parliament to discuss the topic of proactive disclosure, I worked in partnership with my provincial and territorial colleagues to ensure that Canada was an early adopter of open government, by among other things, issuing a joint resolution calling upon all orders of government in Canada to make specific commitments and create the necessary mechanisms in this area, as well as publishing an open letter on the international Open Government Partnership Initiative.
- I also joined with my colleagues from the provinces and territories in issuing a joint resolution on duty to document and in promoting access through the Grace Pepin Award.
- On the International front, I have worked tirelessly to assist countries worldwide to promote and protect information rights in collaboration with the Organization of American States , the World Bank, the Carter Centre, and Global Affairs Canada. I also partnered with the Canadian Bar Association to host the 7th International Conference of Information Commissioners.
Am I satisfied with the progress that has been made? Not entirely, but my team and I have moved the yardstick in terms of access to information policy, case law, and the system itself.
If we think of our progress in access to information as climbing Mount Everest, we’ve gone from basecamp to the camp #1. At this point, we can look back with some satisfaction on what we have accomplished, but we also know that there are more camps we must trek to as we progress toward the summit.
It’s time to give way to someone else to lead the next leg of this expedition, and so I’ve been asked what advice I would give to my successor.
To the future information commissioner I say: preserve your independence at all costs, let your moral compass and objective facts guide you, and perform your duties with integrity and courage.
I would also remind them that, as with so many other tasks, our work is more of a marathon than a 100 yard-dash.
Ultimately, the Information Commissioner is just one person. It is up to all Canadians to keep pushing the government for true progress in the area of access to information.
We all have a stake in ensuring this pillar of our democracy is sound.