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ATIP Community Meeting
Robert Marleau, Information Commissioner of Canada
November 20, 2007
- I am happy to be here and welcome the opportunity to talk to you about what my office has been up to and what are our priorities.
- There is a renewed interest in access to information coincides with the Federal Accountability Act (FedAA).
- The Community has grown with the coming into force of the FedAA.
- The FedAA brought about changes that had direct impact on the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC):
- we now share something in common: subject to the Access to Information Act (ATIA) and the Privacy Act;
- we needed to implement operational requirements necessary to comply both Acts;
- since April 2007, we have received approx. 100 requests – I say approximately because this number grows everyday;
- we had to establish a process to allow for independent investigations of complaints against the Office of the Information Commissioner (Ad hoc Commissioner, Peter de C. Cory).
- Achieving compliance is a challenging goal but it is not insurmountable. Not only federal institutions with a small volume of access requests can show good performance. Large ones as well if the basic ingredients to achieve success are present. These include support from senior management, adequate resources and good procedures and practices in place.
- The reality is that there is too much delay in the system which comes in large part from how the ATIA is enforced (process, third party consultations) and the environment in which it is enforced (access requests are often seen as burdensome and "invasive" by federal institutions’ officials).
- The OIC is also responsible for some of that delay. We have a serious backlog and long turnaround time. I will come back later on the measures we are taking to address the issue.
- In the meantime, complaints to the OIC have doubled in the last 6 months as compared to last year.
Renewal of the OIC
- In the spring of 2007 the OIC began a renewal process. The aim is to create a service culture that allows us to better respond to Canadians, federal institutions and Parliament and to render the delivery of our services more effective.
Andrea Neill is the Assistant Commissioner, Complaints Resolution and Compliance. Her responsibilities include
- directing investigations and dispute resolution efforts concerning complaints filed under the Act;
- overseeing broad systemic institutional reviews for compliance with the Act.
- Andrea will be seconded by two directors and four new chiefs.
Suzanne Legault is the Assistant Commissioner, Policy, Communications and Operations. Her responsibilities include
- monitoring federal institution’s performance through the publication of report cards;
- providing strategic advice and corporate leadership for
- financial management;
- information management, including ATIP function
- program evaluation and internal audit;
- communications; and
- management of parliamentary relations.
- Of course these functions are complemented by Human Resources and Legal Services.
- As the number of complaints is growing, also is our backlog. The structure currently in place is not effectively supporting our program. We are aiming to improve our delivery of service.
- We have devised a strategy and set challenging goals that are expected to be fully implemented during fiscal year 2009-2010:
- comprehensive review of our complaints handling process to improve on turnaround time;
- staffing new positions;
- priority on oldest files;
- intake and early resolution unit;
- review service standards.
- "Three Cs" approach": collaboration, cooperation and consultation:
- we aim to be vigorous and responsible in ensuring that the Act is working effectively;
- we will favour alternative means of dispute resolution, such as mediation over formal hearings and the exercise of judicial powers during our investigations.
- Report Cards:
- The Office monitors the performance of federal institutions engaging in systemic or repeated breaches of the Act;
- We have heard from you that the evaluation should address more than just delays; That contextual elements which affect the overall performance of your institutions should be considered;
- We are currently working on a renewed approach that we hope will increase the impact of the Report Cards on your institution’s performance;
- The Act is based on strong principles. It has served freedom of information well. It has yielded positive precedents. However, after 25 years of existence, there are many aspects that either need to be fine-tuned or strengthened, or that were not foreseen at that time and their inclusion would greatly improve this service to Canadians.
Professionalism and training
Professionalization of ATIP functions:
- it is important to understand the needs of the community;
- we support the recognition of the importance of the ATIP function;
- we also support the survey of employees;
- it is important to develop common competencies;
- we also support the development of a governance structure with CAPA;
- we should look at what other groups are doing in terms of professional codes of conduct (e.g. auditors and HR specialists).
Training: needs of ATIP community are growing along with the growth of the coverage of the Act
- new employees need basic training;
- experienced employees need training in changes to the ATIA;
- need for cooperation and coordination of training for the profession;
- we support the University of Alberta program;
- we intend to collaborate with the Treasury Board Secretariat;
- we intend to be more transparent in explaining our investigative process once we have built our communication function.
Duty to Assist
- This is an important change brought about by the FedAA.
- It is a priority for my office. The amendment should become meaningful in improving access to information at the federal level.
- call on department heads to show leadership;
- some of you exercise it on a daily basis – it is an inherent part of your job. For others, it will require a change in attitudes and culture.
- What does it mean?
- this concept exists in provincial and foreign jurisdictions but there is limited jurisprudence on what it means.
- TBS will be elaborating guidance on it.
- We will closely monitor developments relating to this new responsibility