Evidence of meeting #93 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was commissioner.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Caroline Maynard  Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

February 27th, 2018 / 9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Thank you very much for being here. Your qualifications are very impressive, and your 20 years of relevant experience with oversight institutions is going to serve you well in this job.

As you know, Canada is chairing a global initiative, the open government partnership. That's under the Treasury Board. Aspects of that also call for an open Parliament action plan that could be attached to the open government partnership.

Do you see, first of all, any intersection in terms of your role and promoting open government through this global network? Do you see this as helping you in the work you're doing, having parliamentarians engaged in open Parliament, having legislators engaged in open government? Would you see this as something that would increase the capacity of what you're able to do in your role?

9:25 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

I think that any venues that increase or promote access and transparency.... Definitely, the commission has an interest in participating, whether it's within other jurisdictions, internationally, or nationally.

My priority will be to tackle Canada's problems right now, but definitely, when you look at other jurisdictions and what they've done, you can get some really good feedback and ideas from how they've succeeded, from their success stories. I'm really open to all these opportunities, yes.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

Mr. Gourde is next, for five minutes.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

In your presentation, you proved that you are well aware of the major challenges that await you. What concerns me the most—and you mentioned it a little—is the backlog in processing files. I gather that about 3,000 files are late. Sooner or later, you are going to have to make some administrative decisions.

If the delays keep happening, as has been the case for a few years, it could mean hiring people back permanently, unless you can use outside consultants for a certain length of time. Often, when outside consultants become almost full-time, they cost a lot more than the employees in the commissioner's office. What will your strategy be?

9:25 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

As I said in my presentation, the current commissioner has asked for additional funding. The commissioner's office has been doing so for a number of years. As I understand it, the office receives about 3,000 new complaints each year and processes 2,000 of them. So 1,000 files always go unprocessed.

I am very concerned that it takes about seven months to assign a file to an investigator. It takes about nine months to process a file but there is a wait of seven months before a file is assigned to an investigator. I find that unacceptable. Can we put it down to a lack of resources? Is that the only reason or do we have to look at the process itself? Do we have to change it? Does it have to be less formal? Do we need new technology or a more modern case management system? All those solutions have to be examined.

Ultimately, if I, together with the experts in the commissioner's office, come to the conclusion that we cannot do better than what is being done at the moment, I will ask for additional funds to hire people. I agree with you that having permanent employees who are part of the team is more of an incentive, more motivating for everyone than hiring people on contract to come to work for us for only a certain time.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

You talked about a way forward that involved new technologies. Artificial intelligence can offer a possible solution. Have you started a study to find out how artificial intelligence could help you?

9:30 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

In the committee where I'm currently working, all files are processed electronically. But, since some people still prefer reading paper files, we have both. However, everything is now available electronically. We use it a lot. It's a lot easier to work from home. Nowadays, new technology offers several possibilities that must absolutely be encouraged.

Innovation is another government priority, one that I strongly support for my employees. As I said earlier, they often have ideas that managers don't always think of. Employees are at the heart of the work; they are the ones who study the files, work with the people, and call those who file complaints. So, if there are certain possibilities we can explore to help them do their work as efficiently as possible, we should do so, no question.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

I imagine that one needs pretty specific skills to work in your office. If somebody wants to join your team, what education and skills should they have to do so?

9:30 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

It's hard to say, because I haven't worked in the office of the commissioner yet. However, I can tell you that the committee I belong to strongly encourages diversity. Given that we work on cases that include veterans' grievances, and that we want these cases to be reviewed independently, we have joint teams of veterans, public servants who have bachelor of law degrees, and people specialized in labour relations. This allows us to be truly sure that we have looked at the issue from all angles, and that no doors have been prematurely shut.

So, it would be the same thing in the office of the commissioner. I'm under the impression that we have legions of people with investigative experience, such as former police officers, for example. I also want to be sure that we will give them the tools, and that the teams will actually ask questions at the outset of the process, and not at the end of it. We do not want doors to be left open during investigations. This is why I also encourage teamwork.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

Thank you.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

Thank you, Mr. Gourde.

Mr. Baylis is next. You have five minutes.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Good morning.

I would like to return to the questions asked by my colleague Mr. Picard on the use of technology.

If I look at the statistics, the vast majority of requests to the department are for immigration, is that correct?

9:30 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

I wouldn't be able to tell you. I know there are many institutions.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Well, I have it right here, actually. Over 55% are strictly for immigration, and another 6.8% for border services, which we assume are related to immigration, so almost two-thirds of the work of your department is basically someone asking...We tend to think of this department being used strictly for a big investigation some journalist is doing, but the vast majority of it is someone wanting to know what's happening with their file.

In that light, I'd like to hear your thoughts, or your ideas, of how you would use technology to completely remove the need for more people, but to allow individual citizens to access their information, which is the vast majority of work done by your department.

9:30 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

I don't know how we would increase accessibility through technology within the institutions. That is something I'm going to have to explore. One thing I am concerned about right now—and I don't have answers there either—is the relationship between the Office of the Information Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner.

As you say, there are a lot of access to information requests that touch on privacy. Currently, Bill C-58 is adding the intervention of the Privacy Commissioner into some of those requests that the Information Commissioner is going to be investigating. While I'm concerned about the delay that it could add to the process, I like the idea of having the two commissions working together.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

You like the idea of a balance.

9:35 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

Yes. You cannot ignore the rights of Canadians to privacy. It is a constitutional right.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

I agree with that. The majority of these requests are not privacy concerns, because they are from people who want to know about themselves. If I'm in immigration, I want to know what's happening to my file, and I don't care what's happening to someone else's.

There are ways to use technology now that we could use to work towards that. I was wondering if you plan on investing time and energy to develop and learn those tools.

9:35 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

I will definitely have to look into working with the institution to see what it is that stops that kind of request from being accessible, but I would also have to work with the Privacy Commissioner.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Okay.

Are you familiar with a website called openparliament.ca?

9:35 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

There is a private website called openparliament.ca. Someone came up to me because they wanted to know how I voted, and they were looking at this website, not the government's website, and it was a French person.

This surprised me a bit. I had asked myself why it wasn't available in French. I then realized that it was a private website.

The site was launched in 2010, and he said he wanted to know what his MP had been doing in the House and, short of laboriously going through every day's voluminous transcripts by hand, Parliament's data was hard to use, and he couldn't get access to it.

He does say that, since 2010, the government's own site, which is called ourcommons.ca has gotten a lot better. This is an example within less than seven years that.... He says that the government site is using a lot of the way that he presents data. It's not just having data but the availability. This is an example of a private citizen using openparliament.ca, which sounds more like the government's site than ourcommons.ca, but he has that name, openparliament.ca.

In this example, would you be open to calling this person up, bringing him in, and saying, “How are you doing your data, collecting it, and presenting it to the public so they have access to data?”

9:35 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

We have to be careful because information that you are entitled to is protected from everybody else.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

He's all about open data, but he's just taking data that's out there from the government, but it's not presented intelligently. He said the government has gotten a lot better.

As you said, let's say you ask some question, and I give you 10,000 pages, and the answer is only one paragraph somewhere in there. I haven't helped you, have I?

9:35 a.m.

Nominee for the position of Information Commissioner, As an Individual

Caroline Maynard

No. It's clearly something that will need to be looked into. I don't know yet, because I haven't been doing the job, what it is that is limiting Canadians from accessing data, but also institutions from providing that data. Is it a privacy issue? Is it an accessibility issue ? Is it a technology issue? It's definitely something that I would agree to look into.