P.E.I. privacy commissioner says freedom of information workload increasing

·2 min read
The cases piling up are making commissioner Denise Doiron 'a little anxious.' (Kerry Campbell/CBC - image credit)
The cases piling up are making commissioner Denise Doiron 'a little anxious.' (Kerry Campbell/CBC - image credit)

Prince Edward Island's privacy commissioner says her office needs help, thanks to an increasing volume of requests from Islanders seeking information from government.

The privacy commissioner's job is to step in when Islanders are unhappy with the response they receive, or the lack of response — and more Islanders have been doing that.

"There is a backlog, it's not as ominous as perhaps it is in some other jurisdictions," said P.E.I. Privacy Commissioner Denise Doiron.

"I think it's just that people are getting more familiar with their rights of access and their privacy rights as well, and that they are more open to challenging."

In 2017, there were 286 access requests, and 27 requests for review — that's one in 12. By 2019, 53 of 278 access requests were sent to review, or one in five.

She said the office has 81 open files right now.

"It does feel a little bit overwhelming," she said. "Our heads are still above water but the water level is kind of rising. So one of the ways to try to address that would be to have more staff," said Doiron.

The privacy commissioner has a staff of three, and said she didn't ask for additional resources because it was her first year. The province did add one position to help process information requests.

'Information is power'

During the spring sitting, Premier Dennis King said government can do much better.

His government also promised a review in the provincial budget in February.

The workload 'does feel a little bit overwhelming,' says Doiron.
The workload 'does feel a little bit overwhelming,' says Doiron. (CBC)

"Government will also embark on renewing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to provide greater public confidence and more accountability for government," the line reads.

One applicant told CBC News they have been waiting three years for information. They didn't want to speak publicly for fear the next time, government will take even longer.

CBC has its own access request relating to a death at the provincial correctional facility, from three years ago, that is still awaiting a decision from the privacy commissioner's office.

"Information is power, and when you withhold information, as this government appears to be increasingly doing, you disempower those people for whom that information is important, and it's important because it's one of the vehicles Islanders use to hold government to account," said P.E.I. Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker.

In the last election the PCs also promised to waive the administration fee for filing an information request. That hasn't happened yet, so it still costs $5 for each request, and possibly much more to pay for retrieval of that information.

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