The public’s right to access government information is an integral part of a high functioning, democratic, and accountable society. In Ontario, it is incumbent on government institutions to comply with our access laws, and it’s my job to look for any barriers to access that might arise, whether intentional or through system deficiencies.
Today the IPC issued a report, in response to a request by Amnesty International to investigate the Ministry of the Solicitor General’s (formerly the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services) actions in response to a connected series of access requests and IPC appeals.
The issue stemmed from a set of 86 FOI requests (some of which had multiple parts) filed between 2008 and 2014 as part of an Amnesty research project examining the OPP response to protests and occupations in the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in 2007 and 2008.
Amnesty took issue with the ministry’s access decisions and delays in issuing decisions, resulting in over 50 appeals to our office. Some appeals were resolved at intake and mediation, while others went on to adjudication and resulted in IPC orders.
The Amnesty investigation request provided an opportunity for the IPC to examine how institutions can manage high volume and simultaneous access requests and requests that produce many responsive records. The IPC’s objective was to gain insight into the circumstances that shaped the processing of these Amnesty requests, rather than making findings of fault. Our ultimate goal was to help point the way towards positive change. Accordingly, our report recommends some measures institutions can take to help them respond to complex and voluminous requests. We are also taking steps to increase transparency around the reporting of OPP compliance statistics under FIPPA.
I would like to thank Assistant Commissioner Sherry Liang and Mediator Suzy Hodge for leading the investigation into Amnesty’s concerns. Their dedication and thoughtful recommendations will surely help government organizations fulfill the promise of access to information laws in this province.