Statement by the Librarian and Archivist of Canada following the Office of the Information Commissioner’s systemic investigation on Access to Information
At Library and Archives Canada (LAC), we are dedicated to preserving and sharing Canada’s documentary heritage. We provide Canadians with access to the records in our care in a wide variety of ways and on a daily basis. In one form of access, however, we are falling short: completing Access to Information (ATI) requests for Government of Canada documents within the legislated timeframe.
Today, the Information Commissioner of Canada published two reports based on the results of her investigation into our difficulties meeting the deadlines set out in the Access to Information Act. We acknowledge her findings and her ten recommendations, and have already taken actions to improve the situation. As highlighted in her reports, Library and Archives Canada has faced significant challenges for a number of years in carrying out its unique responsibility for providing access to the historical records from over 150 federal departments and agencies (including records required in class action litigation and settlements against the Crown). The Commissioner recognizes that the unique role LAC plays on behalf of the Government of Canada is subject to factors that are both internal and external to the organization.
The Information Commissioner identified the lack of a national declassification program for top secret documents as a key issue that requires a government-wide solution, and this led her to table a Special Report in Parliament today. LAC has been actively involved in interdepartmental discussions and initiatives to improve declassification for a number of years and an agreed-upon process with specific timeframes for declassification would be most welcome. A whole-of-government solution in this matter would help LAC meet the legislated deadlines in the Access to Information Act.
Consultations on access requests were also highlighted by the Information Commissioner as a major source of delays. She noted there is a need for greater clarity about when consultations are needed, and to what extent. LAC commits to developing and leveraging its own expertise to further inform the use of its delegated authority in these situations.
The Information Commissioner also recognizes the significant systemic challenges that LAC faces with respect to its internal ATI operations and capacity. To address these issues, we have already started recruiting to grow our ATIP team. I am putting in place a Task Force which will be responsible for renewing our ATI policies and procedures, and charged with developing an Action Plan with clear milestones. We will publish this plan on our website in the coming weeks and report regularly on our progress as we strive to meet our responsibilities under the Access to Information Act.
LAC supports open, transparent access to the records of the Government of Canada and I commit to Canadians that we will continue to improve our ATI services. As I mentioned, a number of important changes are to come, but achieving significant, tangible results will still take time. With the support of our Minister, we will pursue all available means and channels within the Government of Canada to properly fulfill our mandate and address the issues raised by the Information Commissioner.
We are ever cognizant of the role our institution plays in a free and democratic society, and our ultimate goal is to make the enduring memory of the Government of Canada and the information we are entrusted with accessible to all. The staff at LAC and I recognize the urgency of the matter and we will spare no effort to ensure that we implement any and all possible measures that are needed to make this access more timely. Not only do we owe this to Canadians—they deserve it.
Librarian and Archivist of Canada
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