Inside Politics

Info Commissioner unveils strategy to investigate national security exemption claims

Undaunted, it seems, by the government's move to impose a half a million dollar involuntary budget cut on her office despite her plea to be spared the deficit-cutting axe, Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has launched a new process to deal with the increasing number of access complaints sparked by exemption claims related to national security and international affairs. 

From the notice filed on the OIC website last week:

The goals of this approach are two-fold:

    to investigate special delegation files efficiently and effectively in a consistent manner, in accordance with jurisprudence, that promotes access to information where disclosure would not injure the public interest; and,

    to create an environment of open dialog between the OIC and government institutions that promotes the timely resolution of complaints.

Senior and experienced OIC investigators have been specially designated to conduct these investigations using a portfolio approach, with a focus on institutions with the greatest number of special delegation investigations.  The intention is to minimize the number of contact points and administrative delays, and to promote consistency and strong working relationships.

In her 2010-11 report, Commissioner Legault made a point of mentioning the "steady increase" in special delegation complaints -- 313 cases in total, 38 of which have been deemed to be "priorities," a designation used to denote cases that are "urgent" or have "significant impact on Canadians." (One of those complaints, it's worth noting, was initiated by the commissioner herself.) 

The most recent Report on Planning and Priorities states that, as of March 31, there were approximately 400 special delegation cases in the OIC inventory, which works out to 20 percent of the total investigative workload.

According to the notice, the new strategy will initially focus on complaints related to exemptions claimed under subsection 15 of the Access to Information Act, which covers a broad range of provisions related to defence, intelligence and national security -- everything from military tactics and strategy to positions taken by Canada in current and future international negotiations. It can also be used to protect information related to the "detection, prevention or suppression of subversive or hostile activities."

Based on performance to date, the report predicts that the office should be able to clear as many as 150 cases by the end of the current fiscal year. 

Tags: access to information, ATIwatch, blackberry jungle, suzanne legault

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