Foreign consultations conducted by DFAIT

The model is therefore in place. It has been fine-tuned over the years by the various managers of the Access to Information Division. The findings of the Information Commissioner in her report Out of Time beg the question: what exactly are the ramifications of the burden of DFAIT’s consultations with other countries and international organizations?

In terms of access to information, the consultations incumbent upon DFAIT greatly exceed the huge number of access to information requests it receives. With regard to consultations initiated on behalf of other departments and agencies, in an average year, foreign consultations account for approximately 10% of all files processed by DFAIT (Tables 1 and 2).Footnote 18 Of this number, a significant portion can be attributed to DFAIT’s obligations under the Act itself and the Treasury Board directive concerning the potential impact of access requests on Canada’s international relations.Footnote 19

 

Table 1: Relative Weight of DFAIT’s Foreign Consultations in the Administration of the
Access to Information Act (2008–09)
  Files Processed by DFAIT Files Processed for Departments and Agencies Relative Weight of All Consultations
Total requests 665 1,039 1,704
Foreign consultations 21 143 164
% of total volume 3% 14% 9.6%

 

Table 2: Relative Weight of DFAIT’s Foreign Consultations in the Administration of the
Access to Information Act (2009–10)
  Files Processed by DFAIT Files Processed for Departments and Agencies Relative Weight of All Consultations
Total requests 638 812 1,450
Foreign consultations 18 117 135
% of total volume 2.8% 14.5% 9.3%

 

On behalf of other departments and agencies, DFAIT each year consults with some 30 governments in order to obtain their opinion on the disclosure to requesters of documents concerning them in one way or another. One thing is certain from a quick glance at Tables 3 and 4: the majority of these consultations involve the United States, and, to a lesser degree, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

 

Table 3: Consultations in 2008–09 by DFAIT with Various Countries on Behalf of Canadian Departments and Agencies
Countries Decisions Received Average Length of Time (Days) Pending Average Length of Time (Days)
Algeria 2 286    
Argentina     2 756
Australia 6 60    
Barbados     1 761
Belgium     1 668
Bulgaria     2 760
Burkina Faso     1 763
Denmark 1 94    
Egypt     2 576
France 2 157    
Germany 1 98 2 490
India     1 763
Israel 1 111    
Italy     1 374
Japan     1 348
Latvia 1 79    
Malaysia 2 50    
Mexico 1 119 3 424
Netherlands 1 128    
New Zealand 2 95 1 716
Portugal     1 293
Romania 2 212    
Russia     1 598
Serbia 1 36    
South Africa 1 121    
Sweden 1 43    
Syria 1 183 1 360
Thailand 1 2    
United Kingdom 3 120 7 559
United States 10 361 53 537

 

Table 4: Consultations in 2009–10 by DFAIT with Various Countries on Behalf of Canadian Departments and Agencies
Countries Decisions Received Average Length of Time (Days) Pending Average Length of Time (Days)
Abu Dhabi     1 354
Australia 4 73 1 384
Brazil     4 80
France 2 30 2 122
Germany 1 70 2 106
Greece     1 210
Haiti     1 215
India 1 15    
Israel 1 108 1 340
Japan     2 131
Kenya     3 93
Korea 1 55    
Lithuania     1 70
Mali     1 95
Mexico     1 129
Netherlands     2 113
New Zealand 5 114 1 716
Norway 1 61    
Singapore 1 48    
South Africa 1 121    
Spain     1 210
Sweden     1 91
Switzerland     1 425
Trinidad and Tobago     1 18
United Kingdom     6 200
United States 3 105 53 207
Uruguay 1 111    

 

The vast majority of these consultations on behalf of departments and agencies involved the Government of the United States and were directed more specifically to the State Department.

Consultations with international organizations on behalf of other entities of the Government of Canada mostly involved members of the United Nations system (Table 5).

 

Table 5: Consultations by DFAIT with International Organizations on Behalf of Departments and Agencies in 2008-09 and 2009-10
Period International Organizations Decisions Received Average Length of Time (days) Files Pending Average Length of Time (Days)
2008-09 Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund 1 78    
European Union     3 581
ICAO 1 20 1 648
International Telecommunication Union (ITU) 1 187 1 615
NATO     1 741
OECD 2 63 3 567
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights 1 14    
UN 4 95 2 499
WHO     2 606
2009-10 Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund     1 139
European Union     6 136
Global Polio Eradication Initiative     1 243
Haiti Reconstruction Fund     1 33
IAEA 2 36    
International Joint Commission (Great Lakes)     1 202
OECD     2 221
UN 1 25 1 180
UNEP     1 143
WHO     1 133

 

The numbers could not be clearer: the time taken in consultations with foreign governments and international organizations on behalf of departments and agencies is considerable.

In actuality, barely some 10 counties and a few international organizations were approached by DFAIT following access requests made directly to it throughout the year (Tables 6 and 7). Once again, most of the requests were directed to the US government.

 

Table 6: Consultations with Various Countries Following Access Requests Received by DFAIT
Period Country Files Completed Average Length of Time (Days) Files Pending Average Length of Time (Days)
2008-09 Brazil     1 313
Cambodia 1 37    
France 1 28    
Italy 1 27    
Jamaica 1 95    
Netherlands 1 37    
Poland 1 96    
Romania     1 550
Santo Domingo     1 502
Trinidad and Tobago     1 440
United States 1 84 5 145
2009-10 Austria     1 80
Brazil     1 76
France 1 20    
Israel     1 235
Japan     1 76
Singapore 1 76    
Switzerland 1 158    
United States 1 200 5 175

 

Table 7: Consultations with International Organizations
Following Requests Received by DFAIT
Period International Organizations Decisions Received Average Length of Time (Days) Files Pending Average Length of Time (Days)
2008-09 Commission for Environmental Cooperation 1 14    
European Union 1 41    
OECD 2 41    
UN 1 133    
2009-10Footnote 20 European Union     2 47
ICAO 1 200    
UNRWA     1 235

 

In these last two tables, the length of time reported is significant. Very few files are completed in less than 15 days. Generally, many months elapse before Ottawa receives a decision from the government consulted on a file.

By agglomerating the data on consultations conducted with foreign governments on behalf of other departments and agencies in 2008–09 and 2009–10, one has a better understanding of the significance and impact of this process, which takes place through traditional diplomatic channels. From the data recorded over the last two fiscal years, one can easily see the burden of the time factor in this process:

  1. The average length of time for Ottawa to receive a decision from a foreign government ranged from 83 to 181 days during the two years under review (Tables 8 and 9).
  2. In 2008–09, the length of time since the start of the consultation process was 574 days, i.e., more than 15 months.
  3. A significant number of the files involved in this procedure during 2009–10 were already overdue by more than six months.

 

Table 8: Average Length of Time Taken to Receive Files Submitted to Foreign Countries on Behalf of Other Departments and Agencies (2008–09)
  Decisions Received Files Pending
Files submitted for consultation 39 N: 81
Length of consultations (days) 7,063 46,548
Average length of time (days) 181 574

 

Table 9: Average Length of Time Taken to Receive Files Submitted to Foreign Countries on Behalf of Other Departments and Agencies (2009–10)
  Decisions Received Files Pending
Files submitted for consultation 22  87
Length of consultations (days) 1,826 16,971
Average length of time (days) 83 195

 

Lastly, Canada is also consulted by foreign governments that also have access to information systems. Their legislation also seeks to prevent prejudice to international relations between countries. The number of such consultations is relatively low, however. Overall, the response time reported by DFAIT ranged from 90 to 105 days (Table 10).

 

Table 10: Consultations by Various Countries with DFAIT
Period Country Files Forwarded Average Response Time by DFAIT (Days) Files Pending Response Time (Days)
2008–09 Australia 5 104    
United States 4 108    
2009–10 Australia 6 71    
Denmark 1 35    
United Kingdom 8 92    
United States 10 107 3 75

 

A few significant findings emerge from this cursory review of the consultations conducted by DFAIT in processing access requests made to it and in acting on behalf of other departments and agencies.

Of the some 1,450 access requests handled by DFAIT (see Table 1, page 15), the latter directly completes nearly 90%. The Access to Information Division handles this function, in accordance with the Access to Information Act and the procedures put into place over the years. In her study, Ms. Delagrave clearly noted the problems encountered by DFAIT in that regard. Furthermore, she proposed that new resources be added with a view, hopefully, to improving the Department’s performance.

In addition, the complexity of the consultation system compounds DFAIT’s work as regards access to information, even though this procedure applies to just 10% of all access and consultation requests.

The impact of the consultation process is unquestionably significant, not only for members of the public awaiting a response, but also for the access to information divisions at DFAIT and similar units in federal departments and agencies. Response times are gauged in half-years at least, hence the departments’ and agencies’ dissatisfaction and disgruntlement.

These affirmations must of course be put into perspective to further study the effects of foreign consultation practices on DFAIT’s performance in processing access requests that involve foreign consultations. This objective can be achieved by comparing these data with the procedures of, and the results obtained by, other countries where access to information is enshrined in legislation and the objective of administrative transparency.

Footnotes

Footnote 18

The data used in this section were gleaned from documents made available to the researcher by DFAIT’s Access to Information and Privacy Protection Division. They concern the last two fiscal years, i.e., 2008–09 and 2009–10.

Return to footnote 18 referrer

Footnote 19

Excluding steps taken under the Privacy Act. 

Return to footnote 19 referrer

Footnote 20

Decisions received or requested between January 1 and June 6, 2010. 

Return to footnote 20 referrer


        
    
    

    
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