Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada's Information Czar Says Lack of Stable Funding Ties Her Hands

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada's Information Czar Says Lack of Stable Funding Ties Her Hands

Article excerpt

Canada's info czar decries 'stopgap' funding


OTTAWA - Canada's information commissioner says the government's "stopgap approach" to funding is jeopardizing her efforts to clear a backlog of complaints from dissatisfied file-seekers.

In her latest annual plan, information commissioner Caroline Maynard says it is impossible to set goals and maintain momentum due to the financial instability faced by her office.

The information commissioner is responsible for handling complaints from Canadians who have difficulty obtaining government records under the Access to Information Act due to delays or refusals to release files.

Businesses, organizations, members of the public, media and academics filed over 106,000 requests with federal departments and agencies in 2017-18 for everything from correspondence and briefing notes to hospitality receipts and archival documents.

Agencies are supposed to answer requests within 30 days or provide valid reasons why they need more time. Government records are considered open by default, but agencies can withhold information for a wide range of reasons, including national security, business confidentiality and legal privilege.

Maynard's office is grappling with about 3,000 outstanding complaints. Many grievances take months or even years to settle.

Maynard says she goes from year to year preparing time-consuming requests for temporary funds "just to have enough staff to keep up with demand."

Her office received one-time funding for 2016-17 and 2017-18 to reduce the inventory of complaints. The Liberal government has earmarked another $3 million for this fiscal year to deal with the backlog, but has made no long-term commitments.

"This stopgap approach also results in higher costs to taxpayers and increases the risk that my office will not be able to deliver its planned results," she says in the plan. …

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