Broad and vague nature of many ATI requests
Many requesters submit requests that are not for specific records but instead for categories of records or for all records pertaining to a particularly expansive or vague subject. Many requests contain insufficient information to identify all appropriate record holders or to identify a clear scope in terms of time, location etc.... Many of these requests are not in the spirit of section 6 of the Act. The term “sufficient detail” in that section is not defined and may be interpreted in many ways. This situation requires that DND staff spend significant amounts of time attempting to contact the requester and assisting them in re-scoping the request so that they can be properly processed. This does not always work effectively, either because some requesters resist re-scoping or because record holders misinterpret the scope of the request or because the re-scoped request still entails a large amount of work. Often DND staff and record holders are not aware of the extent of work that will be involved or do not realize that a request can be interpreted more expansively until late in the process. Such broad and vague requests commonly require an extension beyond the 30 days that the Act sets out as a norm. Taking an extension under 9(1)(a) is a very inexact process because that extension must be taken within the first 30 days and the full extent of the work involved may not be known at that time. It is also very difficult to estimate how large a volume of records will be produced in such cases. When many more records are produced than expected the time spent conducting the review process can be much longer than anticipated, causing deemed refusal situations.
Requests for records containing matters of operations security
A large number of requests are received pertaining to Canadian Forces operations, primarily in Afghanistan. Many of these records are very sensitive in nature and great care must be taken to review them appropriately for any information that may compromise the safety of Canadian troops, allies or the success of operations. Such information is not necessarily obvious to Access to Information staff (DAIP) so consultations must be undertaken with operational commands and with the Strategic Joint Staff Information Support Team (SJS IST), which is tasked with this review. This review necessarily adds time to the processing of these requests. The volume of these requests coupled with the need for the Operations Security Review discussed above, has resulted in a large number of these cases falling into deemed refusal.
Requests for records located outside Canada
This is related to the previous point in that most of these records pertain to Afghanistan. It is not always clear to DAIP at the outset whether responsive records are likely to be held outside the country and this may not be realized until late in the process. When they are in a theatre of operations such as Afghanistan, it is problematic not only because of the distance but also because personnel in Afghanistan are understandably quite busy with operational matters that may delay them directing their attention to an ATI request. This clearly falls within the scope of unreasonable interference with operations as described in section 9(1) (a) of the ATIA but not necessarily the requirement regarding volume of records.
Requests filed in bulk
This continues to be a problem although it has eased somewhat since the last reporting period. There is no limit on the number of requests that any single requester can submit at any one time and some requesters do submit bulk requests. This is not always a problem, particularly when the requests are on various subjects. Although they are all due on the same date they can be divided amongst analysts within DAIP and assigned to various record holders. The problematic requests come from requesters who submit bulk requests that must be directed to the same record holder. One requester submitted 145 requests in this reporting period (125 of which were submitted between May and August) and which were almost entirely tasked to the same organization for response. This is a strain on the abilities of that organization to search and review the records in a timely fashion. In such a case, it is not possible to respond to all of the requests within 30 days. This can be problematic if each request individually does not meet the standard of a large volume of records required for an extension under 9(1)(a).
Consultations sent to other institutions
The response time for consultations sent to PCO is particularly long. In this reporting period PCO has required that all section 69 consultations be sent through the office of the DND/CF Legal Advisor. This additional step has caused an even longer delay, as this is an additional burden on DND CFLA, which is primarily occupied with providing legal advice. Consultations with DFAIT are also notable because of lengthy response times.
Consultations received from other institutions
A number of consultations from Library and Archives Canada during this reporting period have been very large (hundreds or thousands of pages) consisting of entire records groups. Not all of the documents in the records groups pertain to this institution and in some instances only a small number
s of the records are relevant. The sorting out and review of these files has been very time consuming and has taken away from DAIP efforts to process ATI requests.
DAIP staff numbers are still insufficient to close all incoming requests and also deal with the current backlog.