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Interim Information Commissioner renews call for action to stem delays in the federal access to information system

Ottawa, April 13, 2010 — The Interim Information Commissioner of Canada, Suzanne Legault, today renewed the call for federal institutions to take immediate steps to curb the pervasive problem of delays in responding to requests for information under the Access to Information Act.

“While timeliness is the cornerstone of the Act, delays continue to be its Achilles’ heel,” said Legault. The findings of a special report tabled in Parliament this morning “show that little progress has been achieved so far to remedy the root causes of delay across the system.”

The report, entitled Out of Time, documents the extent of delays and identifies factors contributing to them, based on an assessment of how 24 federal institutions responded to access to information requests in 2008-2009. These institutions account for 88 percent of the requests Canadians submitted that year.

The Commissioner confirmed the continued presence and detrimental impact of system-wide issues, such as the inappropriate use of time extensions. The increase in time-consuming consultations among institutions and with third parties was also found to be a significant problem, particularly consultations that are mandatory under Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat policy.

The report also reveals a new and very significant obstacle to timely access to information: the flawed or ill-enforced delegation of authority for access to information decisions within institutions.

Thirteen of the institutions the Commissioner assessed for the special report performed below average or worse against a number of measures, including how quickly they responded to requests and how often they completed requests late.

This report—unprecedented in scope—offers a fact-based assessment of the situation. “This report analyses issues that have a direct and significant impact on the ability of institutions to meet their statutory deadlines for responding to access to information,” noted Legault. “We now have a firm foundation to move forward on the issues of delays and to make administrative improvements to the system, pending legislative reform.”

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