Opening Statement for the Meeting of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics

Daniel J. Caron Ph. D.
Librarian and Archivist of Canada
February 28, 2011
 
Mr. Chairman,
Members of the Committee,
 
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I am here in my capacity as Librarian and Archivist of Canada, to share with you my observations and comments about your study on open government. I am accompanied this afternoon by Mr. Jean-Stéphen Piché, the Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for our Acquisition Sector.
 
Library and Archives Canada combines the holdings, services and staff of the former National Library of Canada and the former National Archives of Canada. Our mandate, as defined in the Library and Archives of Canada Act is to preserve the documentary heritage of Canada, to be a source of enduring knowledge accessible to all, to facilitate co-operation among communities, and to serve as the continuing memory of the Government of Canada and its institutions.
 
The digital age instilled profound shifts in how societies access their documentary heritage, and open government is just one factor among many in this transformation. In particular, the increasing use of information technology by governments and citizens makes it possible to distribute information immediately and at a lower cost. This use of technology allows us to better understand how governments work. It increases the expectations of Canadians, both with respect to government accountability through increasing transparency, and with respect to civic participation in socio-economic debates.
 
I should point out that this important paradigm shift has not led to a change in the order of business for Library and Archives Canada, nor a change in our institution's reason for being. We are continuing to collect our country's documentary heritage in its varied forms and we are trying to make it as accessible as possible, within our legal, regulatory and administrative environment.
 
For Library and Archives Canada, as for all memory institutions, society's greater access to its documentary heritage raises multidimensional issues in view of the volume of collections, the diversity of the origin and nature of records, and the different vehicles by which we acquire them. These three different factors have ethics and legal repercussions on our ability to make documentary heritage accessible to Canadians.
 
The issue of the volume of collections will be resolved gradually through the digitization of holdings. The diversity of the origin and nature of records and the way in which they are acquired raise questions about the system of access governing the various components of our documentary heritage. For example, the records of the Queen's Privy Council have their own system of access. Books that are published in this country, which are kept under the legal deposit program, have another system. Records subject to solicitor-client privilege have a different system. And records from ministers' offices have yet another, and so on. Finally, when Canadians decide to entrust documents of high value to Library and Archives Canada, it is important that they feel they can do so with confidence, that is, knowing that the access given to them is in accordance with their wishes.
 
The few rules I have just mentioned are part of society's access management framework in which Library and Archives Canada operates. This framework is composed of several statutes, such as the Access to Information Act, the Privacy Act, the Copyright Act, the provisions in the Quebec Civil Code that relate to property and the equivalent common law principles. In addition to these statutes, there are internal government regulations and policies, and a series of special rules that apply to Library and Archives Canada, covering specific situations or contractual agreements between the institution and its donors.
 
At present, one of my priorities is to clarify the rules that make up the access management framework, to resolve any inconsistencies, fill any gaps, and make this management framework as widely available as possible. This will be our contribution to the evolution of the framework.
 
I believe that the more clearly the framework's elements are articulated, the more effectively Library and Archives Canada will be able to play its role. In turn, this will contribute to a healthy, sustainable and trusted environment between the various creators of information—government institutions, donors, artists, and so on—and all Canadians who wish to have access to their documentary heritage.
 
The importance of the trusted environment that I am refereeing to must not be underestimated, because the access framework is the culmination and reflection, under the rule of law, of how citizens wish to use their documentary heritage: it is the connection between people and their collective memory.
 
All of these efforts will allow us to increase our effectiveness in processing access requests. These efforts are parallel to the work of this committee on open government. Your proceedings and reports will inform the different components of the access management framework that governs the activities of Library and Archives Canada.
 
Mr. Chairman, I would now like to underscore a number of initiatives that Library and Archives Canada is presently engaged in which increases, in my view, support the concept of government openness.
 
First, in partnership with the Canadian Urban Libraries Council and the War Museum, Library and Archives Canada has started to digitize military records from the past world wars to support a pan- Canadian Lest We Forget program. In addition, about 4,000 items from the old map card catalogue, now in the public domain, have been digitized and may be consulted online. Furthermore, the records of the Canadian Expeditionary Force from the First World War have been digitized and loaded into a Web portal.
 
Second, in collaboration with the Treasury Board Secretariat, Library and Archives Canada leads the first phase of the Digital Office Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to create an environment where borne-digital documents will remain digital from creation to access.
 
Third, over the past five years, Library and Archives Canada has led a recordkeeping initiative that has culminated in a recordkeeping directive that applies to 250 federal institutions and that ensures that records of business and archival value are kept within the memory of the Government of Canada.
 
Fourth, over the next year, Library and Archives Canada will double the volume of its online content, adding millions of genealogy images to its website, in partnership with Ancestry.ca.
 
Lastly, Library and Archives Canada will gradually offer its access-to-information service online by responding to requests with digitized documents. This initiative will yield two important advantages: it will accelerate our response time, and digitized documents will be infinitely reusable for repeat requests.
 
Mr Chairman, I would like to conclude my remarks by summarizing the presentation I made to the International Council of Archives last September. To better serve Canadian society, Library and Archives Canada must be selective in what it acquires, more robust in how it preserves the documentary heritage of Canadians to ensure the authenticity and integrity of information, and more porous to provide better access to its holdings.
 
Thank you Mr. Chairman, I would be happy to respond to any questions.
 
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