The federal government got a lot more than it asked for when it commissioned former Supreme Court justice Gerard La Forest to study whether or not the offices of the federal Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner should be merged.
Although these offices are merged in some provinces, it was not entirely clear what was pushing the move toward a federal merger. Regardless, Justice LaForest was clearly unimpressed with the merger idea and urged Ottawa to focus instead on making information and privacy laws work better for the public.
La Forest’s report says a full merger, or the appointment of a single commissioner to both offices, “would likely have a detrimental impact” on the policy aims of the access and privacy laws.
La Forest calls on Ottawa to “do much more” to foster compliance with information and privacy obligations. Concerning access to records, he says the government should:
- Make it clear to officials that information should be provided to requesters unless there is a clear and compelling reason not to do so.
- Develop better information management systems.
- Provide incentives for complying with the law.
With respect to privacy, La Forest says the government should pay greater attention to the implications of programs involving the sharing, matching and outsourcing of personal information about Canadians to private companies.
He also urges better training for access and privacy officials who process inquiries from the public.