THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL FINANCE

EVIDENCE


OTTAWA, Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance met this day at 6:45 p.m., to study the subject matter of Bill C-59, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on April 21, 2015 and other measures.

Senator Joseph A. Day (Chair) in the chair.

[Translation]

The Chair: Honourable senators, this evening, we continue our study on Bill C-59, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on April 21, 2015 and other measures.

[English]

Tonight, we will be looking at Part 3, Division 18, clauses 230 and 231. It's entitled "Ending the Long-gun Registry Act." The clauses we'll be dealing with can be found at page 135 in the English version.

We are very pleased to welcome with us this evening Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada; and Nancy Bélanger, General Counsel, Director of Legal Services. Welcome.

Ms. Legault, I understand you have some opening remarks and we welcome those at this time.

[Translation]

Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada, Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Good evening, honourable senators. I have been invited to discuss Division 18 of Bill C-59, specifically clauses 230 and 231.

This Division amends the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act, or the ELRA, to exclude the operation of the Access to Information Act retroactive to October 25, 2011, the date on which ELRA was first introduced in Parliament.

To assist parliamentarians in understanding the impact of these provisions, I tabled a special report on May 14 entitled Investigation into an access to information request for the Long-gun Registry. I have also outlined the relevant facts in the timeline you have in front of you.

In October 2011, the government introduced Bill C-19, the ELRA, before Parliament. The bill made no mention of the Access to Information Act. In March 2012, an individual made an access to information request to the RCMP to obtain a copy of all the information contained in the Long-gun Registry. In April 2012, ELRA became law. ELRA does not oust the application of the Access to Information Act. Pursuant to section 4 of the Access to Information Act, the Act applies notwithstanding any other act of Parliament.

[English]

In April 2012, I wrote to the Minister of Public Safety, the Honourable Vic Toews, to inform him that "any records under the control of the Commissioner of Firearms and/or the Canadian Firearms Program, for which a request has been received under the Access to Information Act before the coming into force of subsection 29(1) of the new act are subject to the right of access and cannot be destroyed until a response has been provided under the Access to Information Act and any related investigation and court proceedings are completed."

In May of 2012, Minister Toews responded, that "the RCMP will abide by the right of access described in section 4 of the Access to Information Act and its obligations in that regard."

Between October 25 and October 29, 2012, the RCMP destroyed all electronic records of non-restricted firearms, with the exception of those belonging to Quebec residents.

As you will recall, there was an action in the Superior Court of Quebec at the time.

In January 2013, the RCMP responds to the access request made in March 2012. In February 2013, the requester complains to my office on the basis of three allegations: that the information provided is incomplete; that the RCMP did not justify the incomplete response; and that by destroying the responsive records, the RCMP obstructed his right of access, pursuant to section 67.1 of the Access to Information Act.

Section 67.1 of the Access to Information Act is a criminal provision.

I conducted an investigation and I concluded that the response was incomplete.

In March 2015, I wrote to the Minister of Public Safety, the Honourable Steven Blaney, to report the results of my investigation and to make the following recommendations: first, to process the information relating to the registration of non-restricted firearms in the province of Quebec — we identified 64 fields — and include this information, subject to applicable exemptions under the Access to Information Act, in a new response to the requester; second, to process all the images of the registration and transfer applications that still exist within the CFIS pertaining to non-restricted firearms and include this information in a response, subject to applicable exemptions, such as personal information, to the requester; and, third, I asked that he preserve the records until the conclusion of my investigation and any related court proceedings. On the same day, I referred the matter to the Attorney General of Canada, the Honourable Peter MacKay, and the evidence of the possible commission of an offence under section 67.1 of the Access to Information Act, which deals with the destruction of a record with the intent to deny a right of access under the act.

[Translation]

In April 2015, the Minister of Public Safety, the Honourable Steven Blaney, informed me that he would not implement the first two recommendations of my investigation report. With respect to the third recommendation, the Minister acknowledged that the RCMP had already provided me with assurances that a backup copy of the records would not be destroyed.

Since then, I learned through media reports that the Attorney General referred the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who in turn referred it to the Ontario Provincial Police for investigation.

On May 7, 2015, Bill C-59 was tabled in Parliament. As you know, I have serious concerns with Division 18 of this Bill.

[English]

First, this division will effectively make the Access to Information Act non-applicable, retroactive to October 25, 2011, even before the coming into force of ELRA. Really, the question that I pose here is the same that I posed in the other place, which is you must ask yourselves why.

Second, Division 18 shields from the application of the Access to Information Act, in fact, a broader scope of records than ELRA ever did. It covers not only the records in the long-gun registry, as ELRA did, but any records with respect to the destruction of those records.

This probably means that no one will be able to request information about whether the RCMP has indeed deleted his or her information from the registry or about how much the destruction of the registry costs Canadian taxpayers. Indeed, no one will be able to find out what transpired in relation to the destruction of the records at issue in my investigation. This is above and beyond what was ever considered by Parliament in 2012. Again, you must ask yourselves why.

Third, if Division 18 is adopted, it would potentially nullify the request at issue in my investigation; nullify the complaint made to my office; nullify my entire investigation, including the production orders of documents, which include some 30,000 records, examinations of witnesses under oath and their transcribed testimony; nullify my recommendations to the Minister of Public Safety and my referral to the Attorney General of Canada; nullify my application to the Federal Court, which has already been filed; nullify the police investigation referred to the OPP, which apparently, I learned in the media today, the OPP stated that it is actively investigating this case — I have no knowledge of this, this is just what I read in the news media today — nullify all potential administrative, civil or criminal liability of any of the actors involved; and essentially nullify the requester's right in this case. Really, you must ask yourselves why.

These proposed changes, Mr. Chair, would retroactively quash Canadians' right of access and the government's obligations under the Access to Information Act. It will effectively erase history.

Mr. Chair, in my view, Division 18 of Bill C-59 is not an attempt to close a loophole but, rather, it is an attempt to create a black hole.

[Translation]

Given the fundamental importance of the right of access and of the rule of law in Canadian democracy, I would urge this committee to remove Division 18 (clauses 230 and 231) from this bill.

With that, Mr. Chair, I would be pleased to answer your questions.

[English]

The Chair: Thank you very much. I'll now go to senators. I'll start with Senator Eaton from Toronto.

Senator Eaton: Thank you, Ms. Legault. You'll have to explain some things to me. I don't have your understanding.

In March 2012, an individual made an access to information request to the RCMP to obtain a copy of all the information contained in the long-gun registry. Why would anybody want to obtain all the information in the long-gun registry?

Ms. Legault: I don't know the answer to that question, in fact.

Senator Eaton: It could be somebody who wanted to start his own registry, no?

Ms. Legault: I don't know. Really, under the access to information laws, we never question the motives of people requesting information. It's one of the fundamental principles of access to information because we wouldn't want institutions to make a judgment call as to whether or not they should sever some portions of it or disclose the information. The motive of people that make access to information requests is not a matter that needs to be looked at before answering an access request.

Senator Eaton: So if I had made that request, and if I had gotten a favourable answer from you, I would have had all of the data of the gun registry?

Ms. Legault: You would have had a subset of the data because it would have been redacted for personal information mostly and you would have had —

Senator Eaton: But I would have had the names?

Ms. Legault: You wouldn't have had the names. Those would have been redacted for personal information.

Senator Eaton: So what would I have had?

Ms. Legault: What was disclosed in this particular case included 16 fields, including make and model of the guns in question. We're saying that 64 fields should have been disclosed.

Senator Eaton: I see. The next thing, if you wouldn't mind explaining to me, is this. This probably means that no one will be able to request information about whether the RCMP has really deleted his or her information from the registry. I guess I understood that when we ended the long-gun registry that meant that there would be no more registry. Was that not the intent of the legislation?

Ms. Legault: Yes, I think it was the intent of the legislation that there would be no registry for long guns. There is still a registry for other forms of firearms.

Senator Eaton: Yes, but no long-gun registry.

Ms. Legault: No long-gun registry. Some people are concerned that not all of the information has been deleted and there have been access requests from people wondering if their names have been redacted, deleted from the registry. There are some people who are concerned about that.

Senator Eaton: How would this bill stop you from saying, "Yes, you are no longer on the registry"? If the registry no longer exists, could you not simply write back and say, "Yes, the registry no longer exists"?

Ms. Legault: I think you would have to ask that of the RCMP. The information that the long-gun registry data has been destroyed is the information we're getting from the RCMP.

The Chair: You got this complaint saying something is wrong here. The person who made the request didn't feel that he or she got a proper reply. How did that person know that the RCMP had destroyed the records? Did they tell them that when they wrote back and said they were all destroyed?

Ms. Legault: No. It was announced publicly, through a public announcement by the RCMP, that the long-gun registry records had been destroyed. We didn't know, either. We learned through the media.

The Chair: But you had a letter from Mr. Toews saying that they would comply with the law. So is it not possible that they had retained sufficient information to answer the request for information? Did you get some confirmation from the RCMP that indeed they had destroyed the information and therefore the answer would not be as complete and as fulsome as otherwise?

Ms. Legault: That's complex in terms of an answer because this was a three-year long investigation. There were some records disclosed to the requester, some 16 fields. The requester subsequently complained, and then we started our investigation as to whether or not what was disclosed were the fields that were the makeup of the long-gun registry. After our investigation, we concluded that there were more fields included in the long-gun registry than those that were disclosed to the requester.

The RCMP disagrees with us on that. It's important for the committee to understand. The RCMP disagrees with my office on that, and that's why we're in Federal Court. That's the gist of the Federal Court matter. We have a disagreement in terms of what must be disclosed to the requester to this day.

We learned the records had been destroyed through the media. I subsequently wrote to the minister in December 2012 to ask for confirmation on whether these records had been destroyed or not because we had been provided assurances that they would be preserved until all of our proceedings had been completed. In the December 2012 letter, we were still told that the RCMP would abide by the rights of access at that time.

The Chair: Okay. I am still trying to get the timeline here in my mind. Are you okay?

Ms. Legault: Yes. It was a very lengthy investigation, but I know for certain that in a formal letter to the RCMP requesting their representations, they did confirm that the data had been destroyed, with the exception of the Quebec registry.

The Chair: And the Director of Public Prosecutions referred an investigation to the Ontario Provincial Police; is that still ongoing? You've learned that?

Ms. Legault: I only learned that through the media. It was never confirmed to my office. I don't know.

The Chair: It may or may not have happened?

Ms. Legault: I don't know.

[Translation]

Senator Chaput: Ms. Legault, in your presentation — as you have just repeated — you say that the RCMP totally destroyed all its electronic records on firearms, with the exception of those belonging to Quebec residents. We are talking here about electronic records, but do we still have the records in hard copy?

Ms. Legault: I think you would have to ask the RCMP. I cannot confirm 100 per cent what the RCMP has done or has not done. I know that, after the registry was destroyed, an audit was conducted and it confirmed that all the documents had been destroyed. The only records I am aware of are the static files in the registry pertaining to Quebec.

Senator Chaput: Okay.

Ms. Legault: And they are currently the subject of proceedings in the Federal Court.

Usually, when an access to information request is made, people have the right to register a complaint. Then an investigation is conducted and recommendations are made to the institution. If the institution accepts the recommendations, the process comes to an end and the files are closed. If the institution does not accept the recommendations, it is possible to go before the Federal Court. With this matter before the court, the Federal Court must determine whether it agrees with the RCMP on the 16 fields to be produced or whether it approves our assessment that more than 16 fields must be processed.

That is the matter before the Federal Court. In addition, a few hours ago, we filed an emergency motion with the Federal Court to preserve the remaining documents.

Senator Chaput: To your knowledge, has there been any previous offence under section 67.1 of the Access to Information Act, an offence of obstructing the right of access stipulated by the act? Have there been any previous offences?

Ms. Legault: No charges have been laid. I have taken cases to court before, but no charges have been laid. Once more, it is important for the committee to understand the process when I bring a case to the Attorney General of Canada. In this case, I believed, and I continue to believe, that a thorough investigation should be conducted into the matter. I have not looked into the criminal intent, because that is not within my jurisdiction. I have the evidence that documents were destroyed although an access to information request had been made and although I had asked for a guarantee from the government. That is where we stand now. We have some documents at hand, but I have asked the Attorney General of Canada to have the police open an investigation to shed light on the matter. My office is not able to carry out a criminal investigation.

Senator Chaput: I understand. I have a final question for you. I do not know whether you can answer it.

In your experience, is it normal, reasonable or acceptable to prevent a piece of legislation from being enforced by doing so retroactively?

Ms. Legault: It is clearly within Parliament’s prerogative to make legislation retroactive. No one can question that principle.

In my opinion, the facts of this case are unique and the complainant in this case, probably the information commissioner, will continue to examine the question of the constitutionality and the retroactivity of this bill, if it is passed.

The reasons are based on the fact that the requester in this case has the right of access to information. That legislation is quasi-constitutional. The right to information is a basic right of freedom of expression under section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In addition, I have yet to find case law to justify the retroactivity in this case, and to determine whether it does actually conform to the rule of law.

I believe this bill, these provisions, really create a legal precedent that, in my opinion, is dangerous and unconstitutional, but that is something that the courts will have to determine and see whether parliamentarians actually believe that it is appropriate to accept those provisions of Bill C-59.

[English]

The Chair: The date of October 25, 2011, is the date back to which this legislation is proposed to take us. The law that we're talking about and you're using the acronym for, was that the date it was filed?

Ms. Legault: The request?

The Chair: No, the date that the legislation was first made public, not when it got passed.

Ms. Legault: ELRA was tabled in Parliament on October 25, 2011.

The Chair: If you're looking for some reason for that date that would be the reason, because that was the date it was filed. That was not when Parliament spoke, not when it was passed and became law, but it was the date that it started that process?

Ms. Legault: Correct.

The Chair: Can you explain Division 18? This was in your comments. It shields from the application of the Access to Information Act a broader scope of records than the ELRA ever did. ELRA is the legislation we're talking about.

Ms. Legault: Yes.

The Chair: Help us with this.

Ms. Legault: That's our reading of it, certainly, because clause 230(4) talks about all the records and copies referred to in subsection (1) and (2) of section 29 of ELRA, which is the law that we have now, that deals with the records in the firearms registry.

The clause that is before you discusses records with respect to the destruction; so any records related to the destruction of the records. So anything that happened around the destruction of the records, any memos, emails, which would include all internal discussions about the destruction of the long-gun registry, about the existence of access to information requests at the time, all of those records would be covered by the provision before you. That goes way beyond the long-gun registry. The long-gun registry, as far as we know, has been destroyed. That is what the RCMP has said.

This does not only deal with the records in the long-gun registry only. It deals with any records with respect to the destruction of the records in the long-gun registry.

The Chair: Or with respect to their destruction.

Ms. Legault: Yes, exactly.

The Chair: I notice in that subsection (4), 67.1 is referred to to be excluded, and that's the section you told us that provided for —

Ms. Legault: Yes. The provisions that are before you retroactively annul the application of the entire Access to Information Act. And the clause goes on more specifically to detail section 4, which was mentioned in Minister Toews' letter to me. It goes to all of my powers of investigation under which we obtain the production of all the records related to the destruction of the records.

It nullifies all of the examinations under oath, which helped us determine which fields we consider to be responsive to the requests. It deals with the right to seek an application before the Federal Court. It nullifies the jurisdiction of the Federal Court. It nullifies my ability to make a recommendation to the minister.

The Chair: That's all those sections that are listed?

Ms. Legault: Yes. I can tell you what they are. Section 4 is the right of access. Section 30 is my right to investigate. Section 36 is the exercise of my formal powers. Section 37 is my recommendation power to the minister. Sections 41 and 42 are my ability to take the matter to the Federal Court. Section 46 is basically the jurisdiction of the court. I'm looking at my general counsel, confirming I'm right in my recollection of these sections. Section 67 is an obstruction in the investigation of the commissioner. Section 67.1 is the wilful destruction of records.

The Chair: And the interesting thing, I just noticed when I was reading this that it says that the act is excluded, including those specific sections.

Ms. Legault: Yes.

The Chair: But other sections of the act are also excluded because the whole act is excluded.

Ms. Legault: Yes.

The Chair: I didn't notice the word "including."

Ms. Legault: Yes. And even my ability to make a special report to Parliament, which I have already done. So this bill will basically erase the fact that I ever did erase it from the actual document that was tabled before Parliament, erase all the Hansard and all the Question Period related to that special report.

The Chair: Are you able to help us with respect to the Privacy Act? I know that's out of your domain, but it's the next subsection here.

Ms. Legault: No. That's something that you should ask my colleague.

The Chair: You have enough on your hands. Thank you.

Senator Wallace: Ms. Legault, as with Senator Eaton, I'm trying to understand what happened here and what the effect of it was when the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act came into force. From the summary you've provided us, the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act occurred in April of 2011.

Ms. Legault: I think it is April 5.

Senator Wallace: So that was the end of the Long-gun Registry Act, April of 2012. But March is when the request was made for access to information. In October of 2012, the RCMP, from what you've given us, destroyed all of the records of non-restricted firearms.

What's going through my mind is: What was the effect of the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act coming into force? It ended the Long-gun Registry Act. Would it not flow from that that after April 5, 2012, there would be no ability to respond to any request for information under the Long-gun Registry Act, since it no longer existed? There's information, but it's not information of the Long-gun Registry Act because it disappeared in April, and the destruction occurred subsequent to April. It occurred in October 2012. Does that not make sense?

Ms. Legault: The real crux of the problem that we're all facing is that when ELRA became law, it specifically ousted some provisions to the Privacy Act and some provisions of the Library and Archives of Canada Act, but it didn't oust the jurisdiction of the Access to Information Act.

Senator Wallace: Not specifically.

Ms. Legault: No.

Senator Wallace: But did it specifically say that that remained or it just wasn't mentioned?

Ms. Legault: If you're going to pass a law and you have another law, and the Access to Information Act, which is also an Act of Parliament, says ". . . notwithstanding any other Act of Parliament . . . ." That's what the Access to Information Act says at section 4. It says " . . . notwithstanding any other Act of Parliament . . . ."

What we see in legislation is that Parliament will enact laws and they will say "notwithstanding the Access to Information Act," fine. That's clarity in the legislative obligations of government institutions.

But ELRA did not oust the Access to Information Act, and of course I was very much alerted to that. So I wrote to Minister Toews on April 13, 2012, and I said, "There is this other law that applies, so before you destroy, you have to make sure that if you have access to information requests, you must respect the rights of the requestors."

Now, Minister Toews, the Minister of Public Safety at this time, in April 13, 2012, is seized of this matter. No one from the government in the last three years has indicated that the Access to Information Act did not apply, that I didn't have jurisdiction to conduct my investigations, that I didn't have jurisdiction to order the production of documents and that I didn't have the jurisdiction to examine people under oath.

At the end of this investigation, when I made the recommendations to the minister and I referred the matter to the Attorney General for investigation, then Bill C-59 comes and is tabled before Parliament. That is the situation that is before us.

I am mandated to apply the Access to Information Act; that is my mandate. I am mandated to investigate complaints under the act. I am mandated to conduct these investigations. I am mandated to make recommendations to ministers. And if I have evidence of the commission of an offence, I have the authority to refer these matters to the Attorney General of Canada.

This is what I have done. For the last three years, no one questioned the jurisdiction. Now, the recommendations have been made and the government has disagreed. We have filed the matter in Federal Court. The matter apparently has been referred to the OPP for investigation, and now we are retroactively erasing all of this.

That is the situation before parliamentarians.

Senator Wallace: Back to your point: You do have jurisdiction over information. That's fine. The question is: What information? In this case, what information?

What I find myself struggling with is the information requested specifically related to information of the long-gun registry. But the registry ended in April 2012. So you have information, but it can't be long-gun registry information. It was when it was obtained, but it couldn't be after April 5, 2012.

You've got jurisdiction over data that is what? It's no longer long-gun registry information, because the long-gun registry no longer exists.

Ms. Legault: In March 2012, the long-gun registry existed.

Senator Wallace: The request was made, yes. But as of April, a month later, the act ended. So how could there be a response to long-gun registry information after April when the act disappeared?

Further to that, the request was made to the RCMP. What authority did the RCMP have in relation to the Long-gun Registry Act after April? There's data that they, perhaps, are in possession of, but what's their authority with the long-gun registry? The registry is gone.

Similarly, what's the responsibility of the Commissioner of Firearms after April 2012? The act has disappeared. Doesn't their authority disappear? They have information, but it's no longer long-gun registry information, because the act is gone.

Am I missing the point here? Probably I am sounding argumentative, but I'm just trying to get my head around this to understand. You say you have jurisdiction over information. You do, but how could you have jurisdiction over long-gun registry information subsequent to April 2012? Because the act doesn't exist.

Ms. Legault: The request was made in March 2012 for records that at that time were under the control of the RCMP.

Senator Wallace: At that time, yes.

Ms. Legault: Then the records continue to exist. They continue to exist within the institution, under the control of the RCMP, until October 2012. As you know, under our law, normally you're supposed to respond within 30 days.

But in any event, what happened is that there were two laws. The RCMP had obligations under ELRA to destroy the long-gun registry. But they also had the obligation to respond to the access to information request and they had the legal obligation to preserve the records until all proceedings were completed; hence, the situation that we are faced with today.

Senator Wallace: That's your position.

Ms. Legault: I agree with what you're saying. It's true. This is truly my position, and people may disagree with that, and people will. That's fair, absolutely.

The issue that we have, though, is the following: Why are we doing this retroactive nullification of the Access to Information Act? If the government is of the view that I am wrong and that they've already disclosed everything they needed to disclose, the Federal Court will rule on that. It's already seized of that.

The long-gun registry data has been destroyed. Why are we doing this? If everything that happened, and if the government's position and the RCMP's position is that everything that happened was way above board, everything they did was legal and I am wrong, then let the police investigate the matter. Why are we doing this? Why are we creating a legal precedent when we would actually oust the application of a quasi-constitutional right way before a law even was passed by Parliament? Not only that, we're actually passing a retroactive law that will nullify any record that exists over everything that happened in this file.

Third, we're also passing a retroactive law that shields from any kind of liability — civil, administrative or criminal — any of the actors involved in this. If everybody did everything legally, if everybody acted properly, then why are we doing this retroactive piece of legislation, which actually is creating a precedent? I have never seen anything like this.

So if everything is above board and I am completely wrong on everything, then why not let the matters go through their course — and everybody is already seized of this — and why not let everything run its course? If that's the case, then why are we proposing to pass this retroactive legislation? That is the question, again, that parliamentarians have to ask themselves, because I don't have these answers, but they're legitimate questions.

Senator Wallace: Possibly, it's because parliamentarians want to remove any doubt — any doubt — about what the intention was — and perhaps many feel there isn't any doubt. But if, in the minds of some, there is doubt as to what the intention was with the enactment of the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act, to remove that doubt — that's the purpose of the legislation. It may not be necessary at all, but to remove doubt and so that it's clearly understood — that I would think probably is the purpose of the legislation.

Ms. Legault: But the legislation that is before you — and I don't mean to be argumentative, either — the legislation that is before Parliament and before the Senate is not about the ending the long-gun registry. It's about denying the application of the Access to Information Act and denying this person's quasi-constitutional right retroactively. That's what's before Parliament.

The ending the long-gun registry passed in 2012. According to the RCMP, the data in the long-gun registry has been destroyed.

I don't know what more to say. That is the situation.

Senator Wallace: Thank you. I understand what you're saying.

[Translation]

Senator McIntyre: I understand that, on May 14, you filed a special report to Parliament, entitled Investigation into an access to information request for the long-gun registry. Have you submitted a copy of the report to the Clerk of the Senate?

Ms. Legault: No, but we submitted it to the Senate on May 14, to the Speaker of the House and of the Senate at the same time, as we usually do.

Senator McIntyre: So it’s easy to obtain a copy of that report from the appropriate authorities?

Ms. Legault: Absolutely. We can also provide you with copies. The matter has already been submitted to the Senate. We will be happy to forward copies to the committee in both official languages.

Senator McIntyre: Ms. Bélanger, I understand that you are General Counsel and Director of Legal Services.

Nancy Bélanger, General Counsel and Director of Legal Services, Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada: Yes. I am also from New Brunswick.

Senator McIntyre: That's good.

Ms. Bélanger: I wanted to say that for the record.

Senator McIntyre: As I was reading Ms. Legault's report, I noticed that, in March 2012, an individual submitted an access to information request to the RCMP. Subsequently, in February 2013, the requester — I presume the same individual — filed a complaint with the Commissioner’s office on the basis of three allegations. In March 2015, Ms. Legault sent evidence of a possible violation under section 67.1 of the Access to Information Act, in terms of destroying the records in an attempt to deny the right of access under the act.

Following this complaint, the request and possible violation, what role did you, as a lawyer, play in this case?

Ms. Bélanger: The role of the legal services of the Commissioner’s office is to advise investigators at almost every stage of a case: when a complaint is received, when analyzing the evidence that needs to be gathered and the elements that are required. In this particular case, we helped a very competent investigator with production orders, to find the documentation we needed. We also helped with the questioning of two individuals in particular. We then advised the Commissioner in the writing of letters and reports. That is usually the role of counsel with their clients.

Senator McIntyre: My understanding is that no proceedings, neither criminal nor civil, have been filed to date.

Ms. Bélanger: Criminal prosecutions are not under our jurisdiction, as the Commissioner has explained.

Senator McIntyre: And on the civil side?

Ms. Bélanger: On the civil side, we made a request to the Federal Court, under section 42 of our act, to review the case again to determine whether the Commissioner’s recommendation is well founded or whether the RCMP’s position is the one to be taken in the answer given to the access requester.

Senator McIntyre: Is the requester involved in this procedure?

Ms. Bélanger: Of course. He gave us his consent.

[English]

Senator Wallace: Something that strikes me in looking at material, the presentation that you gave us, is that you refer to the fact that in April 2012 you wrote to the minister, the Honourable Vic Toews, to inform him that any records under the control of the Commissioner of Firearms and/or the Canadian Firearms Program would be subject to the act.

Yet the request that was made for the access to information in March 2012 was a request made to the RCMP. Was the RCMP the proper party for that to be made to? Why wasn't it made to the commissioner? As you say, the commissioner is the one who had control of the records.

Ms. Legault: The Commissioner of Firearms is the Commissioner of the RCMP. Commissioner Paulson is the Commissioner of Firearms.

Senator Wallace: It may be the same individual; I guess he has dual responsibilities. Was the request made to the right party? Should the request for information have been made to the Commissioner of Firearms?

Ms. Legault: It was made to the RCMP.

Senator Wallace: It was, but I'm saying they were sent to the custodian, the holder of the information. Wasn't the responsibility for those records to be within the control of the Commissioner of Firearms? Would it not have been appropriate and correct to send it to him in his capacity as Commissioner of Firearms and not simply to the RCMP? Or am I missing the point here?

Ms. Legault: The RCMP is the government institution that's covered under the Access to Information Act, and the request was made to the RCMP for records that were under the control of the RCMP. The Commissioner of Firearms is the head of the RCMP.

Senator Wallace: I get it. It's the same person.

Ms. Legault: You can ask the RCMP this question later.

Senator Wallace: You say specifically the records were under the control of the Commissioner of Firearms. It just strikes me as unusual that for a proper request to be made for information, it would not be made to the Commissioner of Firearms.

Ms. Legault: I don't think the Commissioner of Firearms is an institution listed under the schedule for the Access to Information Act. It is the RCMP that's the institution.

Senator Wallace: But who has control of the information is the key question. The party — not the individual — responsible for the information is the one that would be responsible to respond to the request. It seems to me it's the Commissioner of Firearms that has the responsibility for the information. The RCMP is simply the holder of that information. Could the RCMP respond to requests simply because they're holding it? Wouldn't it be the commissioner?

Ms. Legault: I don't think so.

Senator Wallace: I didn't think you would, but I'm reading what you provided.

Ms. Legault: To give you another example that may be easier to understand, we will take it outside the context of the RCMP. For instance, if somebody wanted information from Public Works, instead of making the request to Public Works, they would have to figure out which subdivision within Public Works has the documents. The way it works in federal institutions that are covered by the Access to Information Act is that if somebody makes a request, it goes to the Access to Information Office, and this office makes a request for the records to whichever group within their organization holds the specific information.

For instance, if someone makes an access to information request in my office and they want to have information from my email box, which they do, they would make a request to our Access to Information Office. That office sends the request to my office and says "you have received a request for all of these documents in your email box," and I have to provide these documents to the access to information office. That's the way it works in the whole of government.

Senator Wallace: Okay. I may be repeating myself, but I would draw a distinction between the organization that holds the information, has the information in their possession, and the organization that actually controls that information. From what you've provided us, it's the commissioner that controls it. The RCMP is simply holding it. Is there a distinction there that's of any importance?

Ms. Legault: If people want to make this argument in the Federal Court, if we ever go there, they're welcome to it. I don't think that that would be the case.

Senator Wallace: Don't misunderstand me; I'm not trying to make the argument. This is all new to me. I'm trying to understand what we've got before us from the information you've provided to us. That's it.

The Chair: Ms. Legault, you told us in the material you provided that in May, long before the documents and the information were destroyed, you got a note from Minister Toews saying that the RCMP would abide by the right of access described in section 4 of the act and its obligations in that regard. Was there any question that you might have written to the wrong person at that time?

Ms. Legault: Under the law as well, there are some areas where the head of the institution is identified. When I write, I write to the head of the institution. When I wrote to Minister Toews, I also cc’d Commissioner Paulson and the Access to Information Office. Until I get to the end of an investigation, if I have to make formal recommendations to the head of the institution, I write to the head of the institution, which is identified in the law as well. That's why I wrote to the Minister of Public Safety.

The Chair: That's fine. This is a quote that you've given that the RCMP will abide.

[Translation]

Senator Bellemare: I would just like to make sure I understand the issue presented to the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance under Bill C-59.

In practice, whether Division 18 is passed or not, nothing will change to the disclosure of information, because the registry no longer exists.

Ms. Legault: That’s right.

Senator Bellemare: You are asking us to exclude this division because of the retroactivity principle?

Ms. Legault: Right now, the Federal Court still has a paper copy of the Quebec registry. That’s the assurance the RCMP gave us. And they have guaranteed it a number of times. There is that paper copy.

Senator Bellemare: That gives us an idea of the requester.

Ms. Legault: The long-gun registry database no longer exists. Once again, that’s what the RCMP told us.

This bill annuls the court proceedings, as well as our investigation and that of the police. It wipes out everything from the past three years, although the authority of the Access to Information Act has actually never been questioned and we have constantly been assured that the right of access to information will be upheld.

If I am wrong about all that, if I am wrong about the documents that are left and the fact that there may have been a violation, then let’s let the procedures that exist already run their course.

Senator Bellemare: Instead of passing this legislation.

Ms. Legault: Passing a bill like this that applies retroactively, while the government has my recommendations, while the Federal Court has our request on behalf of the requester, while the provincial police has a request for investigation, while no one is held responsible, creates a retroactive piece of legislation that I think establishes a dangerous precedent in Canadian democracy, as I said, and I wonder why.

[English]

The Chair: You have exhausted our list. Thank you very much for being here. It's a complicated matter for us who haven't been dealing with this. I hope our questions haven't been too basic for you because of the date, et cetera. We understand your fundamental principle as well, and it's important for us to get that on the record. Thank you.

Ms. Legault: Mr. Chair, if I may, it is my deepest hope that parliamentarians will actually look at this very seriously. I say this with great emotion, seriously. I do think it is a serious precedent and I think that it is up to parliamentarians ultimately to really look at this. Is it really what parliamentarians want to establish as a precedent in Canada in 2015? Really?

The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Legault and Ms. Bélanger.

In our second panel this evening, we are continuing our examination of Part 3, Division 18, clauses 230 and 231, Ending the Long-gun Registry Act, which can be found at page 135, as honourable senators will recall.

We are pleased to welcome officials from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Peter Henschel, Deputy Commissioner, Specialized Policing Services; and Rennie Marcoux, Chief Strategic Policy and Planning Officer. I understand that you have brief opening remarks and then we'll get into a discussion. You have the floor, sir.

[Translation]

Peter Henschel, Deputy Commissioner, Specialized Policing Services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police: Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to appear as you consider Division 18 in Bill C-59.

I am Deputy Commissioner Peter Henschel and I am responsible for the RCMP’s specialized policing services, which includes the Canadian Firearms Program. I am here today with Ms. Rennie Marcoux, chief strategic policy and planning officer and responsible for the RCMP’s access to information and privacy branch.

[English]

The Information Commissioner's investigation into an access to information request for the long-gun registry has been the subject of considerable contention. We would like to take this opportunity to clarify misconceptions of how the RCMP handled this request, as well as the destruction of non-restricted firearms registration records, otherwise known as the long-gun registry.

In particular, we would like to emphasize that the RCMP takes seriously our obligations under the Access to Information Act. As we will outline, the RCMP worked with the Information Commissioner to respond to the complaint in question while fulfilling our obligations under the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act.

To begin, I should highlight that what was referred to as the registry was not a document, stand-alone system or simple electronic record, but, rather, a compilation of certain information contained in the Canadian Firearms Information System. This database is constantly being updated. On a monthly basis, there are an estimated 50,000 new or amended records added to the database. A copy of the registry could not be printed, copied or deleted with the push of a single button.

The Firearms Act and associated regulations define the type of information required for the registration of a firearm, such as the make, model, manufacturer, registration date, province and postal code. In total, 27 fields in the Canadian Firearms Information System relate to the registration of firearms, the registry, of which 15 include personal information, such as the person's name and address.

Since 2006, the RCMP has responded to over two dozen access to information requests for the long-gun registry. These requests were met by providing the 12 relevant and releasable fields of data. Aside from the request under investigation, the RCMP has never received a complaint on the content of our responses.

I would now like to focus on the destruction of the registration records. Contrary to what has been reported, the RCMP did not — I'll repeat, did not — destroy any registration data before the coming into force of the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act on April 5, 2012. Consistent with the government-approved implementation plan, the RCMP destroyed the records between October 26, 2012, and October 31, 2012, with the exception of Quebec records, which were maintained pending the outcome of a Supreme Court decision. When that decision was rendered on March 27, 2015, the RCMP deleted the remaining Quebec records from the Canadian Firearms Information System between April 10 and April 12, 2015, again, consistent with the government-approved implementation plan.

With these clarifications, I will turn to my colleague to address the findings of the Information Commissioner.

Rennie Marcoux, Chief Strategic Policy and Planning Officer, Royal Canadian Mounted Police: I would like to start by providing background on the file that was investigated by the Information Commissioner. The investigation is based on a single access to information request received on March 27, 2012, for access to the RCMP database regarding the gun registry. The RCMP had provided the requester with an estimate of the processing costs associated with the request. The requester disputed this fee estimate and lodged a complaint.

To resolve the complaint, the RCMP worked with the Office of the Information Commissioner to find a solution that would meet the nature of the request. Based on these discussions, the RCMP provided the requester with a copy of a previous access to information request that met the parameters of his request. The information he received represented over 8 million rows of registration data that included the 12 fields mentioned earlier, as well as four additional data fields. To add more context here, if we were to print this package, it would be approximately 171,000 pages long.

[Translation]

During the course of the Information Commissioner’s investigation, the RCMP met with investigators from the Office of the Information Commissioner on many occasions, provided all requested documentation related to the request that was the basis of the investigation, and arranged for a demonstration of the Canadian Firearms Information System. We maintain the position that, in all aspects of this file, the RCMP fulfilled its obligations pursuant to the Access to Information Act and provided the requester with information to which he was entitled. We did so, while also fulfilling our obligations to meet the requirements set out in the Ending the Long Gun Registry Act.

In conclusion, the RCMP is very aware of the great deal of sensitivity and interest surrounding the destruction of non-restricted firearms registration data. It is worth noting that we are currently also working with the Privacy Commissioner on a complaint that the RCMP had not destroyed these registration records.

I would like to emphasize my colleague's opening remarks. Namely, that the RCMP takes its obligations under the Access to Information Act seriously. As an organization, the RCMP responded to over 9,700 access to information requests in 2014, and since 2006, we have responded to over two dozen requests for registry data.

[English]

The Chair: Thank you to each of you for explaining the RCMP's position in relation to this. Senator Eaton raised earlier what seemed to be a somewhat peculiar request for everything that you've got in an access to information request. You're sort of confirming that it was 171,000 pages if it had to be printed out. Is this a common kind of request or did you consider that extraordinary?

Ms. Marcoux: I would say that because of the size of the information that was in the Canadian Firearms Information System, responding to that request necessitated a lot of work to meet the requirement. Generally, the RCMP does receive fairly broad requests for information, and we work with the requesters either to try to narrow it or to meet the nature of their request to the best of our ability.

The Chair: You also indicated that you destroyed the records. Thank you for describing how those records were organized. You indicated you destroyed them according to a government authorized plan of destruction. Are you able to tell us what you mean by that?

Mr. Henschel: The coming into force of the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act required that we delete data related to non-restricted firearms. That is not a simple process because it is a complex database. The Canadian Firearms Information System is a very complex database and, as I said in my opening comments, it doesn't contain in one single area what would be understood to be the long-gun registry that you could delete with the push of a button. It required us to develop an algorithm or a script to extract those fields that were relevant to the long-gun registry. That took some time to develop those scripts, a number of months, and then they had to be tested numerous times to ensure that they would work and that they would overwrite those areas containing information that would be long-gun registered information, but we also had to test it to make sure it didn't delete or impact data that wasn't part of the long-gun registry. It's a massive system with everything to do with firearms, registration and licensing.

That took a number of months. As I said, after it came into force, it wasn't until October, later that year, that we were actually able to destroy the data. We developed a plan in consultation with senior officials in government to demonstrate why it would take that length of time and what exactly the steps would be.

The Chair: Thank you.

[Translation]

Senator Chaput: Thank you for your presentation. Your explanations were very clear and helped me have a good grasp of the situation.

You say that 27 data fields in the Canadian Firearms Information System relate to the firearms registry, of which 15 include personal information that is not provided when a request is made under the Access to Information Act. According to what you said, 12 fields of data were relevant and releasable.

Mr. Henschel: That’s right.

Senator Chaput: As a result, the information requiring 171,000 pages if printed would have been in the 12 fields of relevant data.

Mr. Henschel: That is correct. In that case, there were still four fields that were not related to the firearms registry, but that we used for other access to information requests.

Senator Chaput: I’m not sure whether you can answer my question, but I will ask it anyway. When you realized that the request would be 171,000 pages of printed information, you must have informed him of the associated costs. How much would that have cost?

Ms. Marcoux: At the time, the estimated amount was $1,150.

Senator Chaput: That’s not all that much for 171,000 pages.

Mr. Henschel: The cost was rather related to the work of providing the information.

Ms. Marcoux: The cost is not for producing or processing the access to information request. It is rather for finding and producing the relevant information. So, as my colleague explained, because the information is in the larger database, the program analysts had to develop an algorithm to identify and extract the information. So the cost is for that work.

Senator Chaput: That’s the cost the requester would have had to pay if he had accepted?

Ms. Marcoux: Yes.

Senator Chaput: You have now destroyed the records of non-restricted firearms. As you explained, that took a long time because you had to develop a plan. How many hours did that take you approximately?

Mr. Henschel: Unfortunately, I don’t have that information with me.

Senator Chaput: And now, is it done? Is it over?

Mr. Henschel: Yes, we have deleted all the records of the non-restricted firearms registry from the Canadian Firearms Information System.

Senator Chaput: Are we talking about 12 or 27 fields? You said that there were 27 fields of data, of which 15 included personal information and 12 were relevant. How many of those fields have you destroyed?

Mr. Henschel: I can’t give you an exact number of fields, because sometimes there is other related information that is not part of the registry. So we had to delete everything in the system that was related to the non-restricted firearms registry.

Senator Chaput: I will ask you the question that I asked the Access to Information Commissioner and that she was not able to answer: Does the RCMP have documents related to any information contained in the registry?

Mr. Henschel: Information from the registry itself?

Senator Chaput: Information contained in the registry. Is any information, or are any documents, still available somewhere that you could use in carrying out your duties?

Mr. Henschel: No. All related information has been deleted from the system with the firearms program. After deleting everything from the system, we made sure that there were no documents in the provincial offices or in the offices of the officers responsible for firearms. In Quebec, given that there was still a case before the courts, at the time, we delayed the process. After the Supreme Court decision was rendered, all the information was deleted from the system, but we still have to check that province’s offices to make sure there are no documents left. There is no copy as such of the information that was in the system, but we still need to check whether there are any documents on non-restricted firearms left.

Senator Chaput: I am from Manitoba. In my province, the RCMP had information on firearms owners. I know that some officers found the information useful for their jobs. Is that information no longer available?

Mr. Henschel: No. I’m sorry, I didn’t check that before I came to testify here, but the only place where there might be some documents is in Quebec. That may have all been deleted, but I am not sure.

Senator Chaput: Thank you.

Senator Eaton: I have a supplementary question following on the chair’s question.

[English]

The Information Commissioner said she asked you about information and you were very tactful in your reply. I think it's odd, and she said they do not presume to know what people's intentions are when they ask the information. But when somebody asks for all the information contained in the long-gun registry, does that not set off bells in your head, why someone would want all the information in the gun registry? You don't have to be tactful with us.

Ms. Marcoux: I would say that the duties and responsibilities of the officers who work in the access to information branch are not to judge, second-guess what is behind an access-to-information request. But what they should do when they read an incoming request they think is too vague or broad, in the normal course of business they pick up the phone, call the requester, if he or she has been identified, or deal with the business line and saying, "Does this request make sense to you? Is it too broad? Would you like us to go back and seek clarification?" That happens on a regular basis.

Senator Eaton: That's what happened in this case, no doubt, and somebody wanted all the information contained in the long-gun registry.

Ms. Marcoux: Right. So what would have happened in this case is that based on the experience we've had in processing previous requests for information in the registry is they would have known that there are the 15 fields that contain personal information and therefore would not have been releasable in any event. In dealing with it, I'm assuming they talked to the Canadian firearms folks and worked through, again, how to respond to that while protecting the personal information.

[Translation]

Senator Bellemare: I would like to go back to a question that Senator Chaput asked you. I asked the Information Commissioner whether it was true that the facts would not change whether Division 18 was passed or not. She answered that it was not true, because there was still a copy of the information requested from Quebec.

I wanted to be sure that I heard your answer properly when you said that you didn’t know. Maybe yes, maybe not, but you weren’t sure and were not able to say whether there was a copy or not.

Mr. Henschel: The question was whether any paper copies were left. It is possible that there are paper copies, but not a copy of what was in the system. For instance, there may still be a request for registration of a firearm in the office of the firearms officer. That’s possible, I don’t know. However, last time we checked, and when we destroyed all the records from the other provinces, we did so after deleting everything that was in the system. There is no more information in the system, but the question was clearly whether there were any paper documents left.

In terms of the Information Commissioner’s request, we made a copy of the entire system, the Canadian Firearms Information System. So we are making a copy of the entire system, a copy of the non-restricted firearms registry, before we delete Quebec’s information.

Senator Bellemare: So there is a copy.

Mr. Henschel: There is an electronic copy, but it’s not a copy from which we can simply withdraw information; it is a copy of the entire system.

Senator Bellemare: That clarifies the question, thank you very much.

[English]

The Chair: Could you follow this timeline for me? On April 5, 2012, the new legislation came into being, and it was entitled Ending the Long-gun Registry Act. Did somebody bring that to your attention and say, "We've got to start working on a way to conform to that act"? How does that happen?

Mr. Henschel: We are obviously paying attention to this, because we have an obligation to follow the law. In this case, being the stewards of the Canadian Firearms Program, we had an obligation to make sure we were compliant with the law. So we were following the legislation as it worked its way through the House of Commons and the Senate.

Once it came into force and once we understood, as well, the implications of the challenge in Quebec, then we went about developing the algorithms, what we call scripts, to be able to implement the legislation as it was at that time, which was to destroy that data as soon as practicable. So that's exactly what we did.

We had a plan in place before. We already knew that this legislation was being debated and was working its way through Parliament, so we had already done preliminary work to understand what it would actually mean to have to actually comply with the legislation.

There's a process working up to it, but then once we understood the parameters of the legislation when it came into the force, then we had to go about building the specific pieces to be able to implement it as the law.

The Chair: Understood. At that time, on April 5, following that, were you aware that you had a request for information that had come in before April 5? Did you continue to work on those? What was your thought about any requests you had received prior to April 5?

Ms. Marcoux: Thank you, senator. I'll refer back to the opening remarks. Based on the previous approach we took in any request dealing with the long-gun registry, we adopted the same one. The copy that we did provide to the requester was what we believe and continue to believe was responsive to the request for information. So we met our obligations under the legislation.

The Chair: It wasn't until January 2013 that you did that. By that time, you had destroyed the records. But I'm asking for this period of time from close to April 5. Around that time, you were aware of at least one request. Even though the act had come into force and you were starting to do your planning of how to destroy the records, you were also trying to meet the obligations with respect to this request for information.

Ms. Marcoux: Right. I think the individual he submitted his request on March 27, 2012, if I'm not mistaken. During that period of time, including dealing with the numerous other requests that we had, we had asked the Canadian Firearms Program for an assessment of the fees, and then we provided that assessment to the requester. So we were processing his request by doing that.

As the weeks continued, I think at some point he contested the fee and lodged a complaint.

The Chair: Yes, but you're jumping ahead again. I just want to follow this slowly. On April 5, the law came into force. You start working on a program to destroy the records, but you had a number of requests for information that had been received prior to April 5. Subsequent to April 5, you're processing those, even though you're also getting ready to destroy.

There was also a letter from Minister Toews that said that you, the RCMP, would meet your obligations under the Access to Information Act.

Ms. Marcoux: Right.

The Chair: That was in May 2012. Were you made aware that the commissioner had raised this issue with Minister Toews? Was that part of something you would be aware of — the issue being that you had to meet your obligation under the prior request even after April 5?

Ms. Marcoux: At the time, our position was and continues to be that the request that we did provide him eventually met our obligations under the legislation, which is consistent with the response by Minister Toews to Ms. Legault.

The Chair: So you were aware of that.

Ms. Marcoux: Yes.

The Chair: He said you would be doing that.

You felt you had answered the request for information, so then you proceeded with your plan to destroy the records, which was done in April the following year?

Mr. Henschel: October.

The Chair: October, a few months later.

Mr. Henschel: The 12 fields I spoke about before — we had a copy of those 12 fields that was up-to-date at the time ending the long-gun registry came into force. So there's a copy that would have contained all that information that was up-to-date at that point. So we had that copy of responsive information that met the obligations of the Access to Information Act.

The Chair: It indicates in this timeline that we were given that you destroyed your documents — the registry — in October 2012, but you didn't answer this request for information until February 2013 — five months later. Is that just translation and getting it together? You got all the information out of it before it was destroyed? Why the delay here?

Ms. Marcoux: The first part of the delay, as you say, is waiting for the respondent to come back and react to the fee estimate, and he didn't agree with the fee estimate.

Following that, once the Office of the Information Commissioner started investigating that particular complaint, we worked with her office in trying to find a solution or an option that would meet the requester's request for information. We ended up providing him with that package of information that was responsive to his request, and provided them with the information to which he was entitled, and that is everything minus the personal information that is exempt under the act.

The Chair: Exactly. So you felt, in January 2013, when you answered this — it's like many others you had answered — that you had satisfied his request?

Ms. Marcoux: Yes, we did, and we continue to maintain that, senator.

The Chair: And you continued to destroy — in fact, you had destroyed by this time — so there's no going back. Other than what you had already given him and the record of that, there's no going back to get more information.

Ms. Marcoux: Exactly, senator. At the time we were balancing two significant legislative obligations, which was meeting our obligations under the Access to Information Act but also responding to the new requirements set out by the ending of the long-gun registry.

The Chair: I think I understand what was happening from your point of view, and that's very helpful. Have you, the RCMP, been requesting this particular legislation we're now dealing with, Division 18? Is this something that you feel you need because of circumstances?

Mr. Henschel: We don't comment on legislation, but what I can say is that we were neither consulted nor involved in this legislation.

The Chair: This is as close as you can get to what I was looking for. Thank you.

Senator Wallace: Ms. Marcoux, in responding to the chair's question, you stated that in January 2013 you responded to the requester's request for information, and yet a few months prior to that, in October 2012, you destroyed records.

In Deputy Commissioner Henschel's earlier comments, I think you indicated that in deciding what information you would provide in response to the request, you had discussions with the Office of the Information Commissioner. You just didn't decide what you were going to provide on your own; you had those discussions with the office.

So in January 2013, when you provided the information in response to the request, was the Office of the Information Commissioner objecting to the information you provided? You had had the discussions with them. Were they on side at that point?

Ms. Marcoux: I don't really want to speak for the Office of the Information Commissioner, but the correspondence back and forth between my access to information analysts and her investigators led my analysts to believe that the information we had provided in response to an earlier request was indeed still relevant to the request under investigation. We recognize that it's our responsibility to meet that, but I would say that we did have very good back-and-forth discussions with her office, which is par for the course. We deal with them on a very regular basis.

Senator Wallace: So with the requester's complaint to the Office of the Information Commissioner, the complaint that by destroying the records you obstructed the complainant's right of access to the information, you would dispute that? You would say to the contrary; you provided the information that was required under the request?

Ms. Marcoux: Yes, we do dispute it, senator. Part of the position that we're presenting today we made in our submissions to the Information Commissioner during her investigation. As we've said, we believe that we met our responsibilities under the Access to Information Act in that regard.

Senator Wallace: So when Minister Toews wrote the Office of the Information Commissioner back in May 2012 saying that the RCMP would abide by the right of access described in section 4 of the act and its obligations in that regard, from what you're saying, that's exactly what happened; the RCMP did comply with its requirements. So what the minister was saying there was correct.

Ms. Marcoux: That's right, senator. That's our position, yes.

[Translation]

Senator Chaput: I just want to clarify something. If I understood correctly, in response to a question from Senator Wallace, you answered that you have fulfilled your obligations under the Access to Information Act, in terms of the requester who wanted to obtain information from the registry. You are saying that you met your obligations. Are you comfortable with that statement? Is that what you are saying?

Ms. Marcoux: Yes.

Senator Chaput: Your obligations are related to the fields of information, correct? You call them fields.

Ms. Marcoux: Yes.

Senator Chaput: As an example, if you say that there is a number of fields for which we can request information and you provide it, does that mean that the requester went beyond those fields in his request? Did he request broader information than the fields allowed you to answer?

Ms. Marcoux: The request that the requester submitted in March 2012 — I don’t have the exact wording — was for information from the firearms registry, if I’m not mistaken.

Senator Chaput: The information from the firearms registry is one thing. There are a certain number of fields. But are there other fields around the registry that are related to the information? The requester requested information, and you determined that it was not part of the registry, so you didn’t answer? I am just trying to understand why there seem to be two sides of the story.

In your view, have you answered and provided the information to all the questions the requester asked? Or have there been some questions that went beyond the registry, in your view? I am trying to understand.

[English]

Mr. Henschel: I'll perhaps respond in English so it's clear, and maybe my colleague can jump in as well.

As my colleague said, you get requests that aren't necessarily completely clear or may not have understood what that means. Part of the process is that there's a back and forth between her analysts, the access to information branch and the requester. With respect to this particular case, there's nothing clear that suggests there was necessarily other information beyond that. It's not like the requester comes in and says, "I want these particular fields." It's sort of a broad statement. That's where the discussion goes back and forth to determine what that actually means.

[Translation]

Senator Chaput: According to the requester, the definition of the information he wanted to obtain wasn’t clear. It may have been broader than the definition you are using for the information from the registry. That could be the case, right?

Ms. Marcoux: The approach taken to process this request and previous requests for information from the long-gun registry is as defined in the Firearms Act and the related regulations, with the exception of personal information.

[English]

The Chair: Thank you very much, RCMP. You've helped explain this, and your explanation has been very clear. We appreciate you taking the time to come and explain this to us. It's interesting in a budget implementation bill to find this kind of clause, and to try to understand it and why it's there is our role.

Colleagues, before we adjourn, tomorrow at 2 o'clock in room 160 we will be proceeding with the five different committees that had different sections referred to them. Thank you very much. The meeting is concluded.

(The committee adjourned.)


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