2011-2012:Administration of the Access To Information Act

Contents

1 Introduction

This report to Parliament describes the activities of the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada (OIC) for 2011–2012 under the Access to Information Act.Footnote 1 It was prepared and is being tabled under section 72 of the Act.

The purpose of the Access to Information Act is to provide Canadians with access to records under the control of federal institutions, except for records subject to limited and specific exemptions and exclusions. The Act also specifies that any decisions on disclosure of information should be reviewed independently of government. To this end, the OIC was created in 1983 as an oversight body reporting to Parliament.

The OIC became subject to the Act in 2007. Since then, we have made every effort to provide exemplary service to requesters. We have also reported annually to Parliament on the administration of our access to information program. Here are some highlights from 2011–2012:

  • We completed formal requests in an average of 22 days.
  • We continued, following a successful pilot project the previous year, to waive the $5 application fee for access requests. We found that waiving the fee had no impact on our workload.
  • We posted summaries of all completed requests on our website to enable anyone to ask for records released under a previous request.

Anyone who believes that an access request submitted to us was improperly handled is entitled to file a complaint. To prevent any conflict of interest and ensure the integrity of the complaints process, an independent Information Commissioner ad hoc investigates complaints about our processing of access requests. John Sims, the Commissioner ad hoc since May 2011, is assisted by an investigator and has the same powers and obligations as the Information Commissioner with respect to conducting investigations and making recommendations.

  • During the reporting period, one complaint was filed with the Commissioner ad hoc about our processing of requests. The Information Commissioner ad hoc concluded that the complaint was not about the treatment of a request, but rather was about the OIC's investigative process in general.

2 Organization

The Information Commissioner of Canada is an Agent of Parliament and ombudsperson appointed by Parliament under the Access to Information Act. The Commissioner is supported by the OIC. Our mission is to conduct efficient, fair and confidential investigations into complaints about federal institutions' handling of access to information requests. The goal of our work is to maximize compliance with the Act while fostering disclosure of public sector information. The Commissioner uses the full range of tools, activities and powers at her disposal—from information and mediation to persuasion and litigation, when required.

The OIC has three branches, as follows:

  • The Complaints Resolution and Compliance Branch investigates individual complaints about the processing of access requests, conducts dispute resolution activities and makes formal recommendations to institutions, as required. It also assesses federal institutions' compliance with their obligations under the Act and carries out systemic investigations and analysis.  
  • Legal Services represents the Commissioner in court and provides legal advice on investigations, legislative issues and administrative matters. It closely monitors the range of cases having a potential impact on our mandate and on access to information in general. Legal Services also assists investigators by providing them with up-to-date and customized reference tools on the evolving technicalities of the case law.
  • Corporate Services provides strategic and corporate leadership in planning and reporting, communications, human resources and financial management, security and administrative services, internal audit, as well as information management and technology. It conducts external relations with a wide range of stakeholders, notably Parliament, government and representatives of the media. It is also responsible for managing our access to information and privacy function.

The Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Secretariat processes all requests filed under the Access to Information Act for records under the control of the OIC. The ATIP Secretariat had two staff members in 2011–0212:

  • The Director, ATIP Secretariat, is responsible for the management of the Secretariat, including overseeing request administration, policy development and training. The Director holds full delegated authority under the Act as ATIP Coordinator.
  • The ATIP Officer is responsible for processing requests and holds some delegated authority, such as for the transfer of requests to other institutions, extension of time limits, fees and notices to third parties.

3 Delegation order

Under the Act, the Information Commissioner is the designated head of the institution, for the purpose of administering the legislation.

At the start of the reporting period, the delegation order the Commissioner signed in September 2010 was in effect (see Appendix A). This order gave full authority for decisions under the Act to the Interim Assistant Commissioner, Policy, Communications and Operations, and to the Director, Information Management.

On April 21, 2011, the Information Commissioner gave delegated authority to John Sims to act as the Information Commissioner ad hoc for the purposes of investigating any complaints against the OIC (see Appendix B).

On the same day, the Commissioner revoked the authority delegated to the Interim Assistant Commissioner (see Appendix C) and to the Director, Information Management (see Appendix D). A new delegation order was put in place to reflect organizational changes. That order gives full authority to the Director General, Corporate Services, and to the Director, (ATIP) Secretariat (see Appendix E).

On July 16, 2011, the Commissioner modified this delegation order to give limited authority to the ATIP Officer (see Appendix F).

4 Interpretation of the statistical report

The OIC's statistical report details all aspects of the processing of access to information requests received by the ATIP Secretariat from April 1, 2011, to March 31, 2012 (see Appendix G).

During the reporting period, we received 48 requests under the Act. With two requests outstanding from the previous period, we processed a total of 50 requests during 2011–2012. Of these, we completed 44 during the year and carried six over into 2012–2013. These six requests involved large volumes of records, and we received them late enough in the fiscal year that we could not complete them before the end of March 2012.

Of the 48 new requests, 15 pertained to investigation files, 10 to administrative records and 14 to miscellaneous records. A total of nine requests addressed matters concerning another institution. We immediately transferred seven of these to the correct institution. The remaining two requests were also incomplete, so we returned them to the requester with instructions on how to properly complete and submit them.

4.1 Sources of requests

Source Number of requests Percentage
Public 40 83.5%
Media 1 2%
Business 3 6.25%
Organization 3 6.25%
Academia 1 2%
Total 48 100%

During the reporting period, 83.5 percent of the requests we received came from the public and 12.5 percent were split evenly between businesses and organizations.

4.2  Workload

Requests Number Percentage
Received during reporting period 48 96%
Carried forward from previous year 2 4%
Total 50 100%

The 48 requests we received in 2011–2012 were two more than the 46 that came in the previous year. However, the number of pages we had to review to complete those requests nearly tripled, from 7,206 in 2010–2011 to 25,187 in 2011–2012.

4.2.1 Requests for previously released records

During the reporting period, we continued to post on our website a list of summaries in both official languages of all the requests we completed. Anyone could then send an electronic message through the website to the ATIP Secretariat to request a copy of previously released records. We responded to 19 such requests in 2011–2012 (one more than in the previous year) within an average of four days.

4.3 Disposition of completed requests

Disposition Number Percentage
All disclosed 7 15.9%
Disclosed in part 21 47.8%
Nothing disclosed (exempt) 3 6.8%
No records exist 6 13.6%
Transferred 7 15.9%
Total 44 100%

For 21 requests (47.8%), we disclosed part of the information sought. This was because, in most cases, the information requested was subject to mandatory exemptions related to our investigations. This exemption requires us to maintain the confidentiality of the investigative process. We fully disclosed the requested records in seven instances, or 15.9% of requests.

4.4 Exemptions

Section of the Act Number of requests* Percentage of requests received Total number (by section) Total percentage of requests received
Paragraph 13(1)(c) (Information obtained in confidence) 2 4.5% 2 4.5%
Paragraph 16(2)(c) (Security of buildings or systems) 5 11.4% 5 11.4%
Paragraph 16.1(1)(c) (Investigations) 13 29.5% 13 29.5%
Subsection 19(1) (Personal information) 14 31.8% 14 31.8%
Paragraph 20(1)(b) (Third-party information) 4 9.0% 14 31.8%
Paragraph 20(1)(c) (Third-party information) 9 20.5% 14 31.8%
Paragraph 20(1)(d) (Third-party information) 1 2.25% 14 31.8%
Paragraph 21(1)(a) (Policy advice) 1 2.25% 4 9.0%
Paragraph 21(1)(b) (Consultations or deliberations) 2 4.5% 4 9.0%
Paragraph 21(1)(c) (Position or plans) 1 2.25% 4 9.0%
Section 23 (Solicitor-client privilege) 4 9.0% 4 9.0%

*Since one request can involve more than one exemption, this column totals more than the 44 requests we completed in 2011–2012.

The most frequent exemption we applied during the reporting period was subsection 19(1) (personal information). We applied it to 14 requests or 31.8% of cases. (We also applied the various exemptions under section 20 this often.) The second most frequent exemption we applied was paragraph 16.1(1)(c) (investigations) (13 requests or 29.5 percent of total). These numbers suggest a return to the trends in our use of exemptions observed in all but the most recent reporting periods.

4.5 Exclusions

In two instances this year, we had to exclude from disclosure under paragraph 68(a) a record that was copyrighted, published work and available for purchase elsewhere.

4.6 Completion times

Period Number Percentage
30 days or fewer 38 86.4%
31–60 days 3 6.8%
61–90 days 3 6.8%
Total 44 100%

For the third consecutive year, the ATIP Secretariat responded to a large majority of requests within the 30-day legislated time frame. No requests were overdue (known as deemed refusals) at any point.

4.7 Extensions

Reason 30 days or fewer 31 days or more Total Percentage
Volume/searching 1 1 2 33%
Consultation 3 0 3 50%
Third party 0 1 1 17%
Total 4 2 6 100%

We took a total of six extensions in 2011–2012: four were for 30 days or fewer, resulting in completion times of 31–60 days; and two were for 31 to 60 days, resulting in completion times of 61 to 90 days. We extended two requests because they required us to search for and through a large volume of records. We extended three requests because we had to consult with other institutions about the records in question. None of these extensions were for more than 30 days. We also required an extension for 60 days to consult a third party in one case.

4.8 Translations

There were no translations of records requested during the reporting period.

4.9 Method of access

To avoid charging reproduction fees to requesters, we provide responses to all requests for which we release records (28 releases in 2011–2012) on CD-ROM. We did not receive any requests from requesters to view the records they sought at our offices.

4.10  Fees

Type of fee Amount
Application 0
Reproduction 0
Total $0
Fees waived Frequency Amount
Up to $25 41 $205
More than $25 0 0
Total 41 $205

Conscious of our duty to assist requesters and to ensure there are no barriers to access to our records, we continued throughout the reporting period to waive the $5 application fee for all access requests. We had tested this approach during a pilot project the previous year to determine whether it would result in a significant increase in requests, and found that it did not. Waiving the fee also means we can accept requests by e-mail, which prevents delays in processing requests associated with fee payments.

4.11 Consultations

We received and processed 13 requests from other institutions to provide our input on requests for records that concern us. Our average time to respond to these consultation requests was 4.2 days. Since the Office of the Information Commissioner may be required to investigate complaints on any file, we rarely provide formal recommendations about what records to withhold or release when consulted. This allows us avoid the situation of our later having to investigate our own recommendations.

For our part, we consulted other institutions about four requests we received. We made a concerted effort to work with each institution consulted to establish the shortest possible turnaround time.

4.12  Costs

Category of cost Amount
Salary $144,766
Administration (operations and management) $2,303
Total $147,069
Person-years 1.8

Costs incurred during the reporting period are calculated based on the salaries of ATIP Secretariat members and expenses associated with the administration of the Act.

4.13  Duty to assist

We continue to make every effort to fulfill our duty to assist requesters. Here are some examples of how we put this duty into action in 2011–2012:

  • When extensions were necessary, we provided interim releases whenever possible.
  • When requests were sent to our office in error, we immediately transferred them to the correct institution. In this way, we strove to limit the delay in getting a response to the requester, since the legislated time frame of 30 days begins from the date we receive the request.
  • When the wording of requests could have resulted in limited disclosure, or we were aware of additional records of interest, we notified requesters and gave them the option to modify their applications.
  • When consultations were required, we adhered to the shortest time frames possible in responding.

5 Changes to the organization, programs, operations or policies

During 2011–2012, the ATIP Secretariat was separated from the OIC's IM/IT Division and now reports directly to the Director General, Corporate Services. This has streamlined the approval process and facilitated the timely processing of requests.

After successfully implementing our new electronic records management system in the spring of 2011, we began work to renew the legal case management system. We also began to modernize the architecture behind our networks and continued to enhance the security of our systems to protect the sensitive information we collect from institutions. We expect each of these measures to have a positive impact on our ability to retrieve records and respond to requests.

6 Education and training

During 2011–2012, the ATIP Secretariat conducted individual training sessions, in both official languages, on the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, and related processes. A total of 5 of our approximately 100 employees took this training in 2011–2012.

Legal Services provided one-on-one training on the Access to Information Act for all new employees. The legal group also offered a session on subsection 19(1) (personal information) of the Act, as part of ongoing training to update and reinforce the expert knowledge of our staff about key provisions in the Act. A total of 30 employees took part in this session.

7 Complaints

There was one complaint filed against us with the Information Commissioner ad hoc in 2011–2012. It turned out to be a broad complaint about the OIC's investigative process. As a result, the Information Commissioner ad hoc deemed it to be not well founded.

Appendix A

Information Commissioner's Delegation of authority to the Commissioner <em>ad hoc</em> pursuant to section 59 of the <em>Access to Information Act</em>

Text Version

Appendix B

Information Commissioner's Delegation of authority to the Commissioner ad hoc pursuant to section 59 of the Access to Information Act

Text Version

Appendix C

Delegation Order for the purpose of the Access to Information Act

Text Version

Appendix D

Delegation Order for the purpose of the Access to Information Actand the Privacy Act

Text Version

Appendix E

Delegation orders for the purpose of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act

Text Version

Appendix F

Delegation orders for the purpose of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy

Text Version

Information Commissioner's Delegation of authority to the Commissioner <em>ad hoc</em> pursuant to section 59 of the <em>Access to Information Act

Appendix G

Information Commissioner's Delegation of authority to the Commissioner <em>ad hoc</em> pursuant to section 59 of the <em>Access to Information Act

Information Commissioner's Delegation of authority to the Commissioner <em>ad hoc</em> pursuant to section 59 of the <em>Access to Information Act

Information Commissioner's Delegation of authority to the Commissioner <em>ad hoc</em> pursuant to section 59 of the <em>Access to Information Act

Information Commissioner's Delegation of authority to the Commissioner <em>ad hoc</em> pursuant to section 59 of the <em>Access to Information Act

Information Commissioner's Delegation of authority to the Commissioner <em>ad hoc</em> pursuant to section 59 of the <em>Access to Information Act

Information Commissioner's Delegation of authority to the Commissioner <em>ad hoc</em> pursuant to section 59 of the <em>Access to Information Act

Information Commissioner's Delegation of authority to the Commissioner <em>ad hoc</em> pursuant to section 59 of the <em>Access to Information Act

Text Version