1. Introduction – Annual Report on the Access to Information Act for the period ending March 31, 2021
The Access to Information Act (the Act) extends to Canadians and individuals present in Canada the right to access information in records that are under the control of a government institution. According to the principles of the Act, government information should be available to the public, necessary exceptions to the right of access should be limited and specific, and decisions on the disclosure of government information should be reviewed independently of the government. The Act also sets out the requirements for the proactive publication of information.
This report describes how the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer administered its responsibilities under the Act during the reporting period from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, and is prepared and tabled in accordance with section 94 of the Act and section 20 of the Service Fees Act.
1.1 Mandate of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer
The Office of the Chief Electoral Officer is an independent, non-partisan agency that reports directly to Parliament which currently includes both Elections Canada and the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections. Elections Canada's mandate is to:
- be prepared to conduct a federal general election, by-election or referendum;
- administer the political financing provisions of the Canada Elections Act;
- monitor compliance with electoral legislation;
- conduct public information campaigns on voter registration, voting and becoming a candidate;
- conduct education programs for students on the electoral process;
- provide support to the independent commissions in charge of adjusting the boundaries of federal electoral districts following each decennial census;
- carry out studies on alternative voting methods and, with the approval of parliamentarians, test alternative voting processes for future use during electoral events; and,
- provide assistance and cooperation in electoral matters to electoral agencies in other countries or to international organizations.
In fulfilling its mandate, Elections Canada also has the responsibility to:
- appoint, train and support returning officers and retain the services of field liaison officers across Canada;
- maintain the National Register of Electors, which is used to prepare preliminary lists of electors at the start of electoral events;
- publish reports on the conduct of elections and official voting results;
- maintain electoral geography information, which provides the basis for maps and other geographic products;
- register political entities, including political parties, electoral district associations, candidates, nomination contestants, leadership contestants, third parties that engage in election advertising and referendum committees;
- administer the reimbursements and subsidies paid to eligible candidates, registered political parties and auditors;
- disclose information on registered parties and electoral district associations, registered parties' nomination and leadership contestants, candidates, third parties and referendum committees, including their financial returns;
- refer to the Commissioner of Canada Elections information concerning possible offences under the Canada Elections Act (or other relevant acts);
- consult the Advisory Committee of Political Parties for advice and recommendations;
- issue written opinions, guidelines and interpretation notes on the application of the Canada Elections Act to political entities;
- recommend to Parliament amendments for the better administration of the Canada Elections Act by submitting a recommendations report after a general election, as well as by providing expert advice and other special reports; and,
- appoint the Broadcasting Arbitrator, who is responsible for allocating free and paid broadcasting time among political parties and for arbitrating disputes that may arise between parties and broadcasters.
The Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections is responsible for ensuring compliance with, and enforcement of, the Canada Elections Act and the Referendum Act.
1.2 Structure of the Access to Information and Privacy Office
The Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Office is part of the Office of the Chief of Staff and is headed by an Assistant Director who is supported by a senior analyst and a junior officer as well as expert consultant(s) as required.
The ATIP Office is responsible for the following activities for both Elections Canada and the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections:
- processing requests under the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act;
- responding to consultation requests from other government institutions;
- providing advice and guidance to senior management and staff on privacy issues and privacy impact assessments;
- developing and delivering awareness training to managers and employees on how to fulfill their obligations under the Acts;
- developing policies, procedures and guidelines in support of ATIP legislation and central agency requirements;
- monitoring institutional compliance with the Acts, procedures and policies;
- acting on behalf of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer in dealings with the Treasury Board Secretariat, the offices of the Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner of Canada and other government institutions regarding ATIP affairs;
- preparing annual reports to Parliament, in addition to other statutory reports and materials that may be required by central agencies;
- preparing and publishing the annual update of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer's chapter of Info Source, describing the agency's record holdings and personal information banks; and,
- representing the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer by participating in ATIP community forums, such as the Treasury Board Secretariat's ATIP Community meetings.