Federal Health Minister Criticized For Deriding Freedom Of Information

As previously noted on the FOI Assist website, Canada’s federal government has underperformed its provincial and municipal counterparts in responding to FOI requests in a timely fashion. Even before the pandemic, one audit found the portion of requests that the Federal Government successfully responded to within the standard 30-day window was only 27%. (In comparison, Ontario’s FOI system fared much better, responding to 60% of requests submitted within 30 days.)

With the arrival of the novel coronavirus pandemic in March, federal offices were shut down and/or transformed to working from home. Since then, federal government offices have been reopening, but the government’s ability to respond to FOI requests has apparently not kept apace.

On Wednesday, a story by Dylan Robertson of the Winnipeg Free Press entitled “Freedom of information requests languish in Ottawa” reported that as of September 28, only 70 of 144 federal agencies had fully returned to processing FOI requests. Some federal offices had ceased processing requests entirely up until mid-July.

During Question Period later that day, Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner brought up the Robertson article, sardonically suggesting that since fewer than half of federal Freedom Of Information offices were operating at full capacity, perhaps the FOI workers “sitting at home” could be employed to respond to document requests from Parliament in a more timely fashion.

Minister of Health Patty Hajdu responded “I’ve spoken to hundreds if not thousands of Canadians since the pandemic was first announced and COVID-19 arrived on our shores and in fact not once has a Canadian asked me to put more resources into Freedom Of Information officers.”

Minister Hajdu’s statement was met with criticism from government veterans and journalists, with many responses from Canadians explicitly requesting additional resources for Freedom of Information. Robertson responded with a follow-up story entitled “Providing Canadians with information not public’s priority, says health minister“.

Even the Information Commissioner of Canada offered uncharacteristically direct criticism of the federal minister in a statement issued via Twitter:

On Friday, Minister Hajdu announced she had additional staff assigned to support Canadians’ access to information requests, and would be speaking to the Information Commissioner to address the issue:

Friday’s reaction by Minister Hajdu perhaps puts the matter to rest, at least for the moment.

The FOI Assist software is due for release in early 2021. To see preview videos of the software in action, and to be notified when the FOI Assist software is available for your institution, please follow the FOI Assist website. Simply enter your email address at the bottom of the page then click the follow button.

Published by Justin Petrillo

I am creating FOI Assist™ software to help Ontario’s provincial and municipal government institutions of all sizes track and respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. For most of my career I have been a lawyer, advising clients on commercial, intellectual property and FOI/privacy issues. From 2013 to 2015, I managed the FOI program for the Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games Organizing Committee while serving as Legal Counsel to the Games. Prior to becoming a lawyer, I obtained a computer science degree and worked as a software developer at several well-known technology companies.

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