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Speaking notes for Suzanne Legault

Interim Information Commissioner of Canada

Special report to parliament

2008-2009 report cards

Systemic issues affecting access to information in Canada

News conference

April 13, 2010


Bonjour à tous et à toutes. Welcome and thank you for coming.

The Special Report tabled today in Parliament is part of my office’s three year plan for report cards and systemic issues. It aims to assess and investigate the root causes of chronic delays in the administration of access to information across federal institutions with a view to develop and implement solutions to improve Canadians’ access to government information.

Some have asked me why focus on chronic delays rather than on more substantive issues.

The reason is simple. Delays are eroding Canadians’ right to know. As David Eaves wrote last week in his blog, excessive delay in access to information is tantamount to censorship, particularly at a time when information and communication technology has increased expectations of Canadians.

In 2008-2009, federal institutions responded to only 57% of the 34,000 requests they received within the 30 day deadline set out in the Act. Moreover, almost half of the complaints my office received last year dealt with delays in getting responses to requests. And we found that three out of four of those complaints had merit.

This year’s report cards reviewed the performance of 24 institutions, including a follow up on the 10 we reviewed last year. These account for 88 % of all access requests made to federal institutions in 2008-2009. This large sample, and the type of data we sought from them, gives us a very clear, fact based picture of the delays so many requesters experience.

13 institutions performed below average or worse. These poor performers accounted for more than one quarter of all access requests made to the federal government in 2008-2009 (9047 requests). The performance of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade was in such decline since last year that it earned a red alert rating. Given that this department is the recipient of many mandatory consultation requests from other institutions its poor performance results in systemic delays.

There is a silver lining. 11 institutions performed well and, in some circumstances, performed very well. The top performers have really demonstrated the recipe for success that others should emulate : strong leadership and support from the minister and senior officials, sufficient resources, commitment to training, full delegation to the ATIP coordinator, consistent exercise of the duty to assist requesters, support and timeliness in handling consultations from other institutions, and sound information management. In this group, CIC, Justice, CBSA, PWGSC deserve special praise for their consistency in good performance or their significant improvement over last year.

I also confirmed the continued presence and detrimental impact of the sytem wide issues identified in last year’s report. These include the inappropriate use of time extensions, the increase in time consuming consultations among institutions, the challenges of information management and the urgent need for the recruitment of well trained ATIP professionals. Some progress has been achieved on these issues but much remains to be done.

In addition this year, we uncovered the potential negative impact of flawed or ill enforced delegation of authority within institutions which, in some instances, have resulted in additional and unwarranted delays.

With these facts in mind, I framed recommendations for individual institutions, to the Treasury Board Secretariat and made commitments on behalf of my office to resolve the problem of delays.

Beyond this, the data and evidence gathered during the report card process will bolster my previously announced systemic investigation into the issues of time extensions and interference with the access process.

With this report, we have a firm foundation to move forward on the issues of delays and to make administrative improvements to the system pending legislative reform. In this regard, I pledge the ongoing support and collaboration of my office.

Thank you.

I would be pleased to answer your questions.