LaForest Rejects Merger of Privacy and Information Commissioner Offices

Overshadowed by the launch of the election campaign this week was the public release of the LaForest report on the potential merger of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the Office of the Information and Access Commissioner.  Although these offices are merged in some provinces, it was not entirely clear what was pushing the move toward a federal merger.  Regardless, former Justice LaForest was clearly unimpressed with the policy proposal, soundly rejecting it in his final report.

The report is an important read since it does more than just bury a bad idea that would have undermined both privacy and access to information in Canada.  The report also says that the government must do "much more to foster a ‘culture of compliance’ with access and privacy obligations."  To that end, the report calls for greater attention to privacy within government and puts on the table the issue of order-making power, arguing that "the option should be studied in further depth."  It adds that:

"In most of the provinces that have adopted this model [order making], the process has not become overly formalized, and the commissioners have been able to attain very high settlement rates. Provided that the unique features of the federal scheme can be accommodated, the order-making model may prove to be a more effective way of vindicating the principles undergirding the Access to Information Act, the Privacy Act, and PIPEDA."

The time has clearly come to beef up the powers found in PIPEDA and Canada’s politicians should seize the current electoral campaign to make a commitment to do so.

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