P.E.I.’s privacy commissioner says her office needs more resources to deal with a major backlog of files, which is causing extended delays in issuing decisions regarding access to information requests.
In the 2011 report of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC), which was recently posted online, Maria MacDonald says concerns have been raised about the length of time it takes for her decisions to be rendered.
MacDonald acknowledges these concerns and says she shares them.
“I am aware that access delayed is access denied, and I fear these delays reduce the credibility of the OIPC,” MacDonald wrote in her report.
The privacy commissioner’s job is to review decisions made by government departments and agencies regarding requests for information filed by members of the media or public through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Anyone can ask for a review of a decision they receive, but the review process can be lengthy, cumbersome and involve countless back-and-forth submissions between lawyers, government officials and third parties who may be involved.
In her report, MacDonald points to the complex nature of many of the reviews she carries out and offers a step-by-step snapshot of a recent file to illustrate how these complexities lead to delays. The file in question took well over eight months just to establish whether certain records could even be debated after government claimed they were subject to solicitor-client privilege.
“The parties still have evidence to submit to the commissioner to support their respective positions on the decision of the access to information request, and the commissioner still has to review the evidence, conduct research into the issues, deliberate on the fact,” the report states.
That means it will still be many months more before this particular file will be complete.
There are currently 38 requests for review that have been filed to the commissioner still awaiting a decision. Twenty of these were filed before 2011. Only three orders were issued by the commissioner in 2011, while another five were resolved without order.
“I am aware that access delayed is access denied, and I fear these delays reduce the credibility of the OIPC." - Maria MacDonald, P.E.I.’s privacy commissioner
In a recent interview with The Guardian, MacDonald said a major reason for these delays is a shortage of resources within her office.
“We have asked for more resources, but that’s a decision of the legislative management committee and I respect their decisions. I believe that they’re carefully considered,” MacDonald said.
She was reluctant to go into too much detail, but did say her office regularly hears concerns expressed by applicants forced to wait extended periods of time for a decision.
“We’ve had a couple of applicants express some frustration. Usually the message is, ‘Please have patience with us. We’re working through the files in the queue.’”
The report notes MacDonald took part in two judicial reviews of previous decisions, including the request for the list of companies that benefitted from the Provincial Nominee Program.
Since the privacy commissioner is only a part-time position, preparing the files and providing further information requested by the courts for these significantly large files led to even further delays in her office.
MacDonald said she wants to reduce these delays, but is doing all she can.
“It takes time and work to do this work. Obviously if I’d thought of anything that I could do to remedy it, I’d be on it,” she said.
“I’m not the first commissioner of P.E.I. to have to same issue, I’m not the first commissioner of Canada to have the same issue, but it is a concern to me.”