Speaking notes for Suzanne Legault Information Commissioner of Canada Special report to parliament 2010-2011 report cards Improvements and ongoing concerns in access to information 2008-2009 to 2010-2011

Media availability May 31, 2012

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

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

The Special Report tabled today completes my office's Three-Year Plan to look at the root causes of delay that plague the access to information system and make specific recommendations for improvement.

In 2008-2009, we examined a large sample of institutions that represented 88% of all requests the federal government received that year. We established statistical and narrative evidence of chronic delays within a large number of these institutions.  For this latest round, we followed up with 18 of them to see how they performed two years later, in the 2010-2011 reporting year.

I believe our assessments have had a positive impact that ultimately translates in quicker responses to requesters. As set out in the Three-Year Plan, the selected institutions knew we were following up on the recommendations made in previous years so many had set specific targets to achieve, and allocated special measures and funding to get there. As a result, we saw improved performance at 13 institutions.

For example, strong results can be observed from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service who went from a D to an A. The improvements can be attributed to a general will within the organization to improve their performance as well as stronger compliance oversight and training. The Canadian International Development Agency also rose three full grade levels from an F to a B, in part because of increased resources, training and updated procedures. Overall, twelve institutions were able to eliminate their backlog of long-standing requests.

And even though the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade received a D for this reporting period, this reflects significant improvements made by the institution in terms of responding to requests on time and almost eliminating their backlog of requests.

On a less positive note, two institutions—Canada Revenue Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police—stayed at the same level. Three turned in worse results: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Transport Canada. These three institutions failed to respond to some or all of the recommendations made in the 2008-2009 Special Report. They state staff turnover, increased workload and lack of resources as an explanation for their compliance level.

While the overall results are initially positive and encouraging, I remain concerned that the system—as a whole—is fragile. The cuts announced in the latest budget challenged all departments and institutions to scrutinize every corner of their operations to save money.  We did hear concern from the subject institutions about the potential impact of diminishing resources on their compliance with the Act. I share those concerns and will be monitoring our complaints to see how it translates in terms of workload.

Now that the report card aspect of the Three-Year Plan is complete, I am suspending them until at least 2014. In the meantime, my office will continue to monitor compliance through new and more detailed statistics collected by the Treasury Board Secretariat, the annual report on access to information from the institution and the complaints we received. Where necessary, I will follow-up with individual institutions on a case-by-case basis. My office will also follow-up on the two underperforming institutions from 2009-2010, Canada Post and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as well as completing the systemic investigation into the issues of time extensions and interference with the access to information process.

In closing, I want to acknowledge the efforts of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in supporting the work that has been done by my office in report cards.

Previous iterations of this committee called in representatives from the subject institutions to elaborate about their successes and challenges. The committee also issued a report about their own observations and concerns about the access to information process. I believe this committee is uniquely positioned to provide oversight for the system, which is essential for accountability.

Thank you again for being here today. I would be pleased to answer your questions.