Evaluating Ombuds Oversight in the Canadian Access to Information Context: A Theoretical and Empirical Inquiry
Laverne Jacobs & Sasha Baglay, eds., The Nature of Inquisitorial Processes in Administrative Regimes: Global Perspectives (Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2013).
30 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2013 Last revised: 24 Jun 2015
Date Written: March 31, 2013
Access to information (ATI) dispute resolution is an administrative context in which polyjuralism abounds. This chapter examines the models of dispute resolution used by the legislative officers that have been statutorily created to resolve access to information complaints in Canada. Since the enactment of Canada’s first freedom of information legislation by the federal government in 1983, a debate has emerged as to whether an investigatory approach based on the ombuds tradition or an adversarial adjudicative approach is most suitable for achieving effective regulatory oversight. This chapter contributes to the debate in two ways. First, it defines three typologies for access to information dispute resolution regimes: investigatory, adjudicative, and mixed investigatory-adjudicative, using the access to information statutory regimes of the 14 territorial Canadian jurisdictions as a case study. With respect to mixed investigatory-adjudicative dispute resolution, it argues that the appropriate classification of Access to Information Commissioners endowed with both ombuds-like powers and order-making capacities is to understand them as independent accountability agencies. This avoids concerns about the 'citizen defender' image and denaturing the ombuds’ tradition, and instead properly focuses on the Commissioner as an agent of the policy goal of promoting governmental transparency. Second, this chapter takes an empirical look at how Canada's federal Office of the Information Commissioner is faring with respect to the four theoretical values of: i) institutional competence, ii) access to justice, iii) efficiency, and, iv) effectiveness in promoting government transparency. The empirical data for this discussion is taken from the preliminary results of an online survey administered to access officials in the federal government.
Keywords: access to information, regulatory oversight, ombudsman, investigations, administrative law, administrative regimes, polyjuralism, inquisitorial, adversarial, qualitative empirical research
JEL Classification: K00, K23, D73
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation