Report of the Information Commissioner | Immigration questions bog down access to information

(Ottawa) The chronic inability of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to answer simple questions continues to bog down access to information. Now the consequences of the status quo have contaminated another department.

Canada’s Information Commissioner, Caroline Maynard, had already scolded IRCC three years ago. The Ministry had just recorded 116,928 requests for access to information in 2019-2020, from people looking for generally simple information.

The problem is far from having gone away: in 2022-2023, there were 184,587 requests for access to information. Worse, the problem has spread: the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is now paying the price with 18,889 requests received for 2022-2023.

Together, last year, the two entities accounted for 86% of the total number of access requests received within institutions subject to the Access to Information Act. Nearly half of applications to IRCC (44%) come from immigration lawyers and consultants.

The problem highlighted in the report is that requesters will now knock on both doors in the hope of getting their hands on the same information. “This is information that should not be obtained through an access to information system,” the commissioner lamented in an interview on Tuesday.

This is basic information, for example, immigration application statuses. It’s as if I were telling you to make an access request to have information on your tax report. This is information that belongs to you.

Caroline Maynard, Information Commissioner of Canada

And “there is no indication that this situation will change in the near future,” writes Caroline Maynard in the systemic investigation that she decided to trigger by observing an increase in immigration requests at the CBSA.

There is the undeniable correlation between welcoming hundreds of thousands of immigrants per year and the problem. There is also the fact that the CBSA lost track of 12,000 access to information requests by performing a server transfer.

“It will have an additional impact on a unit (already overwhelmed), which will have to go back and rebuild the files that (it has) lost,” estimates Caroline Maynard in a video interview.

Towards a “new online experience”

But there is also – and perhaps above all – the fact that IRCC has postponed by two years the entry into force of a digital platform intended to simplify things. And the commissioner learned this during the investigation, in August 2023.

“The introduction of the new online experience will be done gradually starting at the end of 2023 and will continue over two years (until 2025),” IRCC Associate Deputy Minister Scott Harris told him, according to a transcript contained in the report released Tuesday.

The Commissioner hopes that while waiting for this technological solution, IRCC and the CBSA will be able to correct the situation. “It could be as simple as appending the reasons for a decision (related to an immigration request),” she illustrates.

Because “the object of Access to Information Act has never been to replace the means of providing what people need and what they expect from the federal government,” is written in the highlight in the investigation document produced by Maynard.

” It is not normal “

The Bloc Québécois immigration spokesperson, Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, shares the same reading. “It’s not normal to have to make requests for access to information because it’s not online,” he storms.

We are clogging up another structure which should not be, continues the elected official. It’s not acceptable ! This department is probably the most dysfunctional of all the departments in the federal government.

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, spokesperson for the Bloc Québécois on immigration

He fears that the report “will still be collected on a shelf, because, obviously, (the ministry had) not read the 2021 report”. And the increase in immigration cannot be singled out, says the MP: “It was something predictable. »

Requested by The Pressthe Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party did not react to the commissioner’s report, which runs to around fifteen pages, including appendices and graphs.

Same reservation in the office of the President of the Treasury Board, Anita Anand: “We are currently studying the report, and we therefore cannot make any comments at this time. »

For its part, IRCC “continues to follow up on the recommendations that (the commissioner has) made,” we read in the report of Commissioner Maynard, who has one year of mandate remaining.

The story so far

  • May 2021: The Information Commissioner slaps IRCC on the wrist, urging it to “improve the accessibility of information relating to immigration files so as to alleviate undue pressure on the immigration system.” “access to information”.
  • May 2024: The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) acknowledges in a press release that it has lost track of approximately 12,000 requests for access to information.
  • May 2024: The Information Commissioner releases a new report on difficulties in accessing immigration-related information, pointing the finger at IRCC and the CBSA.


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