Today, Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton launched an investigation that will look at how the Government of Alberta handles access to information requests under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (the FOIP Act).
“I have been reviewing the recent media coverage and discussions at the Legislature alleging political interference in the processing of access requests. After careful consideration, I have decided to initiate an investigation on my own motion,” commented Commissioner Clayton.
“In making my decision, I considered a number of factors, including:
- For some time, I have been concerned about the timeliness of responses to access requests. In my 2012-2013 Annual Report, I reported the number of requests for time extensions submitted to my Office increased by 89% from the previous fiscal year. The recent allegations raise questions about the reasons for the time extension requests.
- Statistics on the operations of the FOIP Act for the 2011-2012, 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 fiscal years are not available. While I have heard anecdotally that government departments have seen increasing numbers of access requests, I have no statistics on these numbers or on the response times over the past three fiscal years.
- A number of applicants have informed my Office that public bodies do not respond to access requests within the timelines set out in the FOIP Act.
- The Alberta’s NDP Opposition and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation have publicly stated they have written to me asking for an investigation into delays in the release of records and raising concerns about political interference in the processing of access requests. I have received their written requests.
- I have heard anecdotally of concerns and allegations regarding the disclosure of applicant identities during the processing of access requests. This raises questions as to whether the identity of an applicant (e.g. political, media) is a factor in the time taken to respond to a request.
“As part of my legislated mandate, I want to assure myself that access requests are processed in accordance with the FOIP Act. The objectives of my investigation are to conduct a review of:
- the steps taken to respond to an access request, including identifying who reviews access request responses before records are released and determining how such reviews impact response times;
- the response times by provincial government departments to access requests and the reasons for any time extensions and/or any delays in responding/processing; and
- the evidence to determine whether or not political interference has caused delays in responding to access requests.”
Upon conclusion of the investigation, Commissioner Clayton will release a public investigation report with findings and recommendations.