Departmental Performance Report 2011-12

 

Message from the Commissioner

Suzanne Legault - Information CommissionerThe year 2011–2012 was one of transition for the Office of the Information Commissioner, due to both internal and external factors.

The federal government, along with many provincial and municipal jurisdictions, embarked on a concerted effort towards open government and signed on to the Open Government Partnership.

We also saw, for the first time in 10 years, a reversal of the declining performance of federal institutions in their fulfillment of their obligations under the Access to Information Act. As a result of this improved performance, and due to the ongoing efforts of my staff, the make-up of our complaints inventory has been changing in recent years, particularly during the last, as I had anticipated. This means that our caseload is now almost exclusively composed of complex files. Three key categories of these (totalling more than half our inventory) necessitated specific action in 2011–2012: cases dealing with national security, defence and international affairs, complaints against the Canada Revenue Agency and complaints against the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. We developed or enhanced a number of strategies to effectively investigate these complaints, and completed close to 1,500 files.

Despite these positive developments, 2012–2013 and beyond promise to present their fair share of challenges. The implications of the cost containment measures in the 2010 federal budget and the funding reductions announced in Budget 2012 have required me to do a complete review of my office’s corporate and investigative functions. As a result, my overall staff complement will have to be reduced by 11 percent by the end of 2013. The effect of funding reductions on institutions will, as they struggle to respond in a timely manner to our investigations, have an impact on my ability to carry out my mandate.

In addition, much remains to be done to ensure institutions approach something like the peak level of performance they had achieved in the past. At a time of limited resources and with the increased complexity of the complaints we receive, the collaboration of institutions will be even more crucial to the successful operation of the oversight model set out in the Act.

Looking ahead to 2013, Canada will mark the 30th anniversary of the coming into force of the Access to Information Act. This presents an opportunity for me to take stock of the law’s longstanding and unresolved shortcomings, as other Commissioners have done before me. In particular, I wish to examine the Act from the oversight perspective and to assess advances in access to information made elsewhere and their implications for our law. I will do this with a view to recommending to Parliament how to better fulfill the commitment embedded in the Act to timely disclosure of information to requesters.

My primary focus for 2012–2013, hence, will remain on achieving my strategic goals of reversing the declining trend in timeliness and disclosure of government information, of delivering exemplary service to Canadians and of creating an exceptional workplace.

Section I: Organizational overview

Raison d’être

The Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada (OIC) ensures that federal institutions respect the rights that the Access to Information Act confers on information requesters.Endnote 1 Protecting and advancing the right of access to public sector information ultimately enhances the transparency and accountability of the federal government.

Responsibilities

The OIC is an independent public body set up in 1983 under the Access to Information Act. Our primary responsibility is to conduct efficient, fair and confidential investigations into complaints about federal institutions’ handling of access to information requests. We strive to maximize compliance with the Act while fostering disclosure of public sector information using the full range of tools, activities and powers at the Commissioner’s disposal.

We primarily use mediation and persuasion to resolve complaints. In doing so, we give complainants, heads of federal institutions and all third parties affected by complaints a reasonable opportunity to make representations. We encourage institutions to disclose information as a matter of course and to respect Canadians’ rights to request and receive information, in the name of transparency and accountability. We bring cases to the Federal Court to ensure that the Act is properly applied and interpreted, with a view to maximizing disclosure of information.

We also support the Information Commissioner in her advisory role to Parliament and parliamentary committees on all matters pertaining to access to information. We actively make the case for greater freedom of information in Canada through targeted initiatives such as Right to Know Week, and ongoing dialogue with Canadians, Parliament and federal institutions.Endnote 2

The following diagram shows the OIC’s organizational structure.

OIC's organizational structure

 
Text version

This organizational chart shows the titles of the three senior officials at the Office of the Information Commissioner who report to the Information Commissioner: General Counsel and Director, Legal Services; Assistant Commissioner, Complaints Resolution and Compliance; and Director General, Corporate Services. Each title is enclosed in a box and these are displayed in a row below the box for the Information Commissioner above. The boxes are connected by single lines.

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 case law.

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 and carries out systemic investigations and analysis.

Corporate Services provides strategic and corporate leadership for 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, governments and representatives of the media. It is also responsible for managing our access to information and privacy function.

Strategic outcome and program activities
Strategic outcome Program activities
Individuals’ rights under the Access to Information Act are safeguarded.
  • Compliance with access to information obligations
  • Internal services

Organizational priorities

Our 2011–2012 operational priorities continued to focus on ways to improve our service delivery. We also strove to foster greater compliance with the Act among federal institutions and to facilitate the convergence of access and Open Government. On the management side, we worked to implement talent management at the OIC, build security infrastructure and enhance our performance measurement and auditing.

Our 2011–2014 strategic plan organizes our work in three key result areas: a leading access to information regime, exemplary service delivery to Canadians and an exceptional workplace. During the first year under the plan, we strove to integrate it into our corporate culture and use it to set goals for the year and measure our results.

Priority Type Program activity
1. Improving service delivery Ongoing Compliance with access to information obligations
In 2011–2012, we were faced with an increasingly complex caseload. In response, we continued to fine-tune our processes to ensure efficient and effective investigations, reviewed our business model to ensure its ongoing soundness, and developed new approaches for effectively investigating complaints. We closed more files than we received and while we were unable to improve our turnaround times for investigations, particularly of administrative complaints, we put new measures in place that are beginning to show results in 2012–2013.
Priority Type Program activity
2. Maximizing institutional compliance Previously committed to Compliance with access to information obligations
Our comprehensive special report (prepared in 2011–2012 and tabled in May 2012) re-assessed the performance of 18 at-risk institutions from our 2008–2009 report cards. The most recent report cards found signs of improvement, in terms of the timeliness of responses to requests, and uncovered a number of best practices, as well as practices about which we have concerns. Our systemic investigations into delays in the access process and interference with responding to requests continued.
Priority Type Program activity
3. Facilitating the convergence of access and Open Government Previously committed to Compliance with access to information obligations
We hosted the 7th International Conference of Information Commissioners in October 2011. Among other topics of discussion among the 250 participants was the intersection of access and Open Government. In February 2012, the Commissioner, along with her provincial and territorial counterparts, sent a letter to the President of the Treasury Board containing recommendations related to the government’s action plan for its work as a member of the Open Government Partnership.  
Priority Type Program activity
4. Implementing talent management New Internal services
Through career development programs and specialized training for investigators, we sought to augment the capacity of our existing workforce, to ensure we have an experienced team to deal with our evolving caseload. We hired new investigators and have taken active measures to develop their skills and retain them as part of our team.
Priority Type Program activity
5. Building the security infrastructure New Internal services
We worked to finalize our corporate security policy framework and developed related plans and procedures. We also continued to enhance the security of our information systems to protect the sensitive information we collect from institutions.
Priority Type Program activity
6. Enhancing performance measurement and auditing Previously committed to Internal services
Our external audit committee was active this year and provided sound advice to the Commissioner on our financial and program management. This included reviewing the results of an audit of our investigative function and the preliminary results of a staffing audit, as well as a follow-up on the previous audit of our intake and early resolution function.

Risk analysis

Our 2011–2012 Report on Plans and Priorities noted five key risks that we face, as set out in the Risk-Based Audit Plan for 2010-2013.Endnote 3 The following table summarizes these risks and ranks them according to their perceived impact and probability.

 

Risks

Inherent risk level

1. Efficiency of complaints resolution

High

2. Ability to retain corporate memory and organizational momentum in the event of management turnover

High

3. Compliance with the Policy on Government Security

High

4. Effectiveness of information technology (IT) systems and information (IM) practices

Moderate

5. Compliance with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat’s Financial Management Policy instruments

Moderate

1. Efficiency of complaints resolution: workload management risks

These risks are of real significance to us, due to the evolving nature of our caseload. We have to be flexible, as we seek to respond as efficiently and effectively as possible to our incoming caseload, while continuing to close files in our inventory.

In 2011–2012, the number of complaints was down by 20 percent from the year before. This was due to a drop in administrative complaints, which, in turn, was among the fruits of our oversight work through our report cards and meetings with institutional senior officials focusing on these complaints.Endnote 4 Consequently, we were faced with far more complex refusal cases as the year went along. In addition, we worked through more than half of the 115 outstanding complaints from before April 1, 2008—some of the most complex files in our inventory. We also made dedicated efforts to respond to large groups of complaints against the Canada Revenue Agency and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and launched a special project to tackle a growing number of complex and aging cases involving complaints associated with international affairs, defence and national security. All together, our investigative group faced a very challenging caseload for the year. (See our annual report for details on our investigative work and summaries of some notable cases.Endnote 5)

The growing complexity of our inventory was not unexpected, since it had been evolving in this direction over the past couple of years. To help us respond effectively, however, we reviewed our business model and undertook an audit of the investigation function. It found areas for improvement and gave us a foundation on which to build a detailed action plan, which we implemented in the last half of the year. We also continued to respond to the findings of the 2010 audit of our Intake and Early Resolution Unit, and refine the resulting processes and approaches. In addition, we sought to ensure consistency of interpretation of the Access to Information Act in the context of complex cases by augmenting the role our legal services team in assisting investigators.

2. Corporate memory and organizational momentum: human and knowledge capital risks

Going into 2011–2012, we identified two main risks associated with our workforce: having sufficient skills and experience, and ensuring adequate succession planning at the senior levels.

With fewer than 20 percent of our staff at the start of the year having been with us for more than five years, we focused on talent management during 2011–2012 to develop the capacity we need to effectively investigate complaints. This involved ensuring employees had access to tailored training to help them develop their skills and knowledge.

Our ongoing talent management initiative will also look at succession planning for senior management positions, since this remains a concern for us. We consider developing employees who express an interest in management through the initiative.

3. Compliance with security policy: security risks

Given the nature of our work and the information we hold, security will always be a high risk.

A major thrust of our efforts over the past two years has been the establishment of a full-fledged security program in line with the 2009 Policy on Government Security. The program covers a wide range of activities, including business continuity planning, personnel security, physical security, contracting security, technology security, and awareness and training.

To date, we have carried out a number of risk and compliance assessments and implemented various corrective measures. In 2011–2012, we worked to finalize our corporate security policy framework and developed related plans and procedures.

The planned Audit of Compliance with the Policy on Government Security and Follow-up on the 2010–2011 Physical Security Threat and Risk Assessment will now take place after we move into our new offices in the summer of 2013.

4. Effective practices: IM/IT risks

Sound IM and IT infrastructure is crucial to our work. But with aging systems in place, we had risked not having the capacity to support organizational objectives and business needs.

To mitigate these risks, we have been closely monitoring the implementation of our IM/IT Strategic Plan for 2009-2014, making adjustments as required. In particular, after successfully implementing our new electronic records management system in the spring of 2011, we began work in 2011–2012 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.

5. Compliance with financial policy: accountability risks

With an experienced external audit committee in place, and skilled financial management staff, we have been able to improve the results of our Office of the Auditor General audits each year. We have also successfully implemented the various policies in the areas of financial management and control, including preparing in the summer of 2011 the first Annex to the Statement of Management Responsibility Including Internal Control over Financial Reporting.

Resources at a glance

2011–12 Financial resources ($ thousands)
Program Activity 2010-11
Actual
Spending
2011-12 ($ ) Alignment to Government of Canada Outcomes
Main
Estimates
Planned
Spending
Total
Authorities
Actual
Spending
Compliance with access to information obligations 8,724 8,197 8,197 9,141 8,757 Government Affairs: A transparent, accountable and responsive federal government
Internal services 3,889 3,808 3,808 4,061 3,891  
             
Total 12,613 12,005 12,005 13,202 12,648  
 
2011–12 Human resources (full-time equivalents [FTEs])

Planned

Actual

Difference

106

91

15

Section II provides details of our progress in 2011–2012 towards our strategic outcome.

Expenditure profile

Approximately 71 percent of our resources in 2011–2012 were dedicated directly to our program activity (compliance with access to information obligations). The remaining 29 percent was slated for internal services. This percentage is consistent with that for other Agents of Parliament, and for organizations of comparable size and mandate.

We lapsed $553,906 into 2012–2013, 4.3 percent of our overall budget. The gap between planned and actual spending can be accounted for by a reduction in outside legal professional services, due to our increased internal litigation capacity. In addition, one important case that was supposed to be heard during 2011–2012 was settled prior to its going to the Federal Court.

The following chart shows our authorized, actual and planned spending for each year from 2009–2010 to 2011–2012.

Spending Trend

 
Text version

This bar chart shows the Office of the Information Commissioner’s (OIC) planned, actual and authorized spending for three fiscal years: 2009–2010, 2010–2011 and 2011–2012. The bars are stacked one on top of another, with the three bars for 2009–2010 at the bottom, the three bars for 2010–2011 in the middle and the bars for 2011–2012 on top. The amounts are in thousands of dollars but are listed in millions below, for ease of comprehension.

In 2009–2010, the OIC’s planned spending was $8,505,000, actual spending was $11,463,000 and authorized spending was $11,645,000.

In 2010–2011, the OIC’s planned spending was $12,062,000, actual spending was $12,613,000 and authorized spending was $12,761,000.

In 2011–2012, the OIC’s planned spending was $12,005,000, actual spending was $12,648,000 and authorized spending was $13,202,000.

Starting in 2012, benefits under the employee severance pay program no longer accumulate for several groups of our employees. This stemmed from recently signed collective agreement negotiations and changes to conditions of employment for executives and certain non-represented employees. As a result, we paid out approximately $903,000 for severance benefits during 2011–2012.

Estimates by Vote ($ thousands)
Vote 40 or Statutory Item Truncated Vote or statutory wording 2009–2010 actual spending 2010–2011 actual spending 2011-2012
Main Estimates
2011-2012 Actual Spending
40 Program expenditures 10,326 11,259 10,615 11,377
(S) Contributions to employee benefit plans 1,137 1,354 1,390 1,271
Total   11,463 12,613 12,005 12,648

For more information on the Office of the Information Commissioner's organizational votes and/or statutory expenditures, please see the Public Accounts of Canada 2012 (Volume II). An electronic version of the Public Accounts 2012 is available on the Public Works and Government Services Canada's website.Endnote 6

Section II: Our performance in 2011–2012

Strategic outcome

This section provides details of our performance in 2011–2012. All the work we did contributed to our achieving our single strategic outcome: safeguarding individuals’ rights under the Access to Information Act.

Program activities

The work we do under our two program activities serves to help us meet our single strategic outcome.

Compliance with access to information obligations

Internal services

The Access to Information Act is the statutory authority for the oversight activities of the Information Commissioner of Canada: to investigate complaints on how federal institutions handle access to information requests; to review the performance of federal institutions in complying with legislative requirements; to report results of investigations/reviews and recommendations to complainants, federal institutions and Parliament; to pursue judicial enforcement; and to provide advice to Parliament on access to information matters.

Internal Services are groups of related activities and resources that are administered to support the needs of programs and other corporate obligations of an organization. These activities and services are management and oversight; human resources; financial management; information management and technology; communications; access to information and privacy; material and acquisition services; travel and other administrative services; and internal audit. Internal Services include only those activities and resources that apply across an organization and not those provided specifically to a program.

 
2011–12 Financial resources ($ thousands)
Program activity

Planned spending

Total authorities

Actual spending

Compliance with access to information obligations

8,197

9,141

8,757

Internal services

3,808

4,061

3,891

Total

12,005

13,202

12,648

 
2011–12 Human resources (FTE)
Program activity

Planned

Actual

Difference

Compliance with access to information obligations

75

62

13

Internal services

31

29

2

Total

106

91

15

Performance summary and analysis

This table lists our expected results, performance indicators and targets, as described in our 2011–2012 Report on Plans and Priorities.Endnote 7 The subsequent narrative provides details of our actual results.

Expected results

Performance indicators

Targets

1. Individuals who have filed complaints with the Information Commissioner benefit from an efficient resolution process.

Percentage of investigations that adhere to quality assurance standards

90 percent of all investigations adhere to quality assurance standards at first round review.

85 percent of administrative complaints are resolved within 90 calendar days of their being registered, as per practice direction on Triage of Complaints.Endnote 8

2. Institutions meet their obligations under the Act and adopt measures to address institutional and systemic issues affecting access to information.

Percentage of recommendations from investigations of complaints/systemic issues that are adopted

95 percent of recommendations made in complaint investigations are adopted.

80 percent of recommendations made in report cards and systemic investigations are adopted.

3. All stakeholders—including the public, information requesters and the access community, among others—receive relevant and timely information on ATI issues and the role of oversight bodies in ensuring compliance with the legislation.

Information shared with, and feedback received from, stakeholders, notably through web publications, public events and partnerships

100 percent of annual reports, special reports and major announcements are covered by most national newspapers and broadcasting networks. The information is accurately reported, as determined by content analysis.

100 percent of corporate and special reports, findings of noteworthy investigations and summaries of access to information requests are posted on the OIC’s website.

100 percent of corporate and special reports are posted with a link for stakeholders to submit comments and questions.

4. Parliament receives timely, clear and relevant information and advice about the access implications of legislation, jurisprudence, regulations and policies.

Percentage of access-relevant parliamentary committee reports, transcripts, Hansards that refer to OIC's perspectives and advice

85 percent of access-relevant parliamentary documents refer to the OIC's perspectives and advice. References are accurate, as determined by content analysis.

5. Courts receive useful representations and relevant evidence about access issues, the proper interpretation of the provisions of the Act and of related statutes, regulations and jurisprudence.

Percentage of court cases where judgments reflect representations made by the OIC

90 percent of judgments in court case support the OIC's representations.

Ensuring an efficient complaints resolution process

In our 2010–2011 Departmental Performance Report, we cited a number of challenges that lay ahead, particularly the growing complexity of our caseload.Endnote 9 We noted that we also had to continue with process efficiency improvements in order that we could meet our target for completing administrative complaints.

In response, we developed a number of new strategies for the investigation of refusal complaints while maintaining and refining our existing approaches. We assembled a dedicated team to target complaints about international affairs, defence and national security matters, while our most senior investigators continued to work on the oldest cases in our inventory. We applied our portfolio approach to large groups of complaints at particular institutions and expanded the focus of our intake and early resolution group to include refusal complaints.

Overall, we once again closed more complaints than we received, making a small dent in our inventory for the fourth year in a row. Since April 1, 2008, we have reduced our inventory by 21 percent, closing more than 7,400 complaints.

Results against our targets: We have put procedures in place and developed tools to guide investigators and ensure they take each required step and document their actions. An audit in the spring of 2011 confirmed that we had all the elements in place for high-quality investigations.

We were not successful in closing 85 percent of our administrative complaints in 90 days. Our rate was 28 percent for the year, with a staff shortage for part of the year contributing to this level of performance. We were able to return to a full complement of investigators by the end of the year and also sought throughout the reporting period new ways to streamline the process and developed new tools for investigators, such as report templates. Figures for the first quarter of 2012–2013 are already showing a definite improvement.

Fostering institutions’ compliance with the Access to Information Act

The year 2011–2012 saw us nearly complete our three-year plan for improving the impact and usefulness of our annual report cards. We re-assessed the performance for 2010–2011 of 18 institutions that performed at the average level or worse in the 2008–2009 report card exercise.Endnote 10 We found signs of improvement among the institutions in terms of the timeliness of their responses to access to information requests: 13 institutions got a better grade than in 2008–2009, two stayed at the same grade, and three got a lower grade.

We tabled a special report to Parliament featuring the report cards in May 2012.Endnote 11 Later in 2012–2013, we will wrap-up our work under the three-year plan with re-assessments of the performance of Canada Post and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. These institutions received very poor grades in the 2009–2010 report cards.

In light of the general improvement we found, we have suspended the report cards initiative for at least two years, in order that we may dedicate all our investigative resources to pursuing individual complaints. Nonetheless, we will remain vigilant in our oversight role and continue to address the issue of timeliness through specific investigations and ongoing meetings with institutions’ senior officials, and will monitor the trends the Treasury Board Secretariat’s expanded statistics bring to light. We will also review institutions’ annual reports to Parliament on their access to information operations, since we recommended to those institutions that were the subject of our 2010–2011 report cards that they report in that vehicle on their progress implementing our recommendations.

In addition to the report cards, we continued to pursue systemic investigations in 2011–2012. One is on delays caused by consultations conducted with other government institutions, and the associated time extensions. The second is on interference with processing access to information requests. We expect to complete both these investigations in 2012–2013 and report our results to Parliament.

The outcomes of our investigations are another way that we foster compliance with the Act, particularly when we issue mostly informal, but sometimes formal, recommendations for institutions to follow. In 2011–2012, we issued letters to heads of institutions containing formal recommendations for 17 complaints. We ultimately resolved 14 of these cases, with the institutions implementing our recommendations.

We issued an advisory notice on our project to target our inventory of complaints pertaining to international affairs, security and defence. It is available on our website.Endnote 12 We also launched a project to carry out detailed analysis of the time extension notices institutions submit to us, and have used the results to inform our investigations.

Results against our targets: With complaints requiring formal recommendations to institutions accounting for only 1 percent of our investigations in 2011–2012, and 82 percent of those resulting in the complaint being resolved, we achieved our target of having 95 percent of our investigative recommendations adopted. With institutions only disagreeing with a small number of recommendations in our 2010–2011 report cards, we easily achieved our target of having 80 percent of our recommendations accepted by institutions.

Providing relevant and timely information to stakeholders

The Commissioner uses a variety of venues to work with partners and interested parties to bolster the case for access to government information—both in Canada, with the goal of developing a leading access regime, and around the world.Endnote 13

In October 2011, we hosted the 7th International Conference of Information Commissioners, in collaboration with the Canadian Bar Association. This event, held for the first time in Canada, brought together more than 250 participants, including 36 international, provincial and territorial information commissioners. Under the theme Access to Information: A Pillar of Democracy, the conference featured wide-ranging presentations on implementing access to information laws and the broader topic of freedom of information. The conference culminated in the release of a joint resolution signed by information commissioners from 23 countries. It calls on governments to enshrine the right to information in national laws and to put in place effective appeal mechanisms.Endnote 14

The Commissioner and senior officials attended 22 events during 2011–2012 as keynote speakers or panellists. Among those events were the 2011 Access and Privacy Conference in Edmonton, the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in Toronto, an orientation session for Senators in Ottawa, and a panel hosted by the Quebec National Assembly.

In February 2012, the Commissioner, along with the provincial and territorial information commissioners, sent a letter to the President of the Treasury Board containing recommendations related to the government’s action plan for its work as a member of the Open Government Partnership.Endnote 15 We shared that letter with the members of the international network of information commissioners.

Results against our targets: We met all three targets in this area, receiving accurate and widespread media coverage of key access-related decisions and developments. We published our annual report on our website, which includes details of noteworthy investigations. We have also now published summaries of all the access to information requests completed in 2011–2012. Our website includes an electronic form for readers to submit their comments and questions about our work. We also respond promptly to feedback submitted to us via Twitter and Facebook.

Providing timely, clear and relevant information and advice to Parliament

Parliament plays a key role in the oversight of the Access to Information Act and of institutions implementing the law. To that end, the Commissioner provides, when called upon by parliamentary committees, her perspective on national and international developments related in access to information.

The Commissioner made five appearances before parliamentary committees in 2011–2012 and offered the benefit of her advice.

Of particular note, was the Commissioner’s appearance in November 2011 in front of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (ETHI) to discuss her ongoing dispute and resulting court actions with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). As part of her testimony, the Commissioner presented the results of a comparison of the provisions in other jurisdictions’ laws on public broadcasters, and presented alternative wording for section 68.1 of the Access to Information Act, which excludes records related to the CBC’s journalistic, programming and creative activities from the Act.

On February 16, 2012, the Commissioner gave testimony before the Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce. Her appearance was part of the committee’s review of the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act. In preparation for the Commissioner’s testimony, wecompleted international benchmarking, in order to provide appropriate information to Parliament.

The Commissioner’s other two appearances before ETHI were about the 2010–2011 annual report (September 22, 2011) and about the 2012–2013 Main Estimates and the limited resources we have to carry out our mandate (March 27, 2012). Finally, the Commissioner appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on November 22, 2011, on the Bill to abolish the federal gun registry.

Results against our targets: On March 8, 2012, ETHI tabled its report on the CBC matter, recommending that the Government amend section 68.1 based on the expert testimony and, notably, our international comparison. The government tabled its response on May 7, 2012, agreeing to study the committee’s recommendations, taking the various international models into account.

Contributing to the interpretation of relevant legislation and jurisprudence

A fundamental principle of the Access to Information Act is that decisions on disclosure should be reviewed independently of government. In the case of access refusals, the OIC is responsible for carrying out the first of two available levels of independent review, through the investigation process. Once the investigation is completed and the findings are reported to the complainant, a second level review can be initiated before the Federal Court.

In 2011–2012, the Commissioner was involved in a total of 14 court proceedings.

Results against targets: Overall, this marked a successful year for us before the courts, with justices at all levels supporting our submissions and advancing the interests of requesters. Although the Commissioner’s appeals before the Supreme Court of Canada concerning the control of records held in ministerial offices and the status of heads of government institution under the Act were dismissed (Canada (Information Commissioner) v Canada (Minister of National Defence) et al.), the decision provides important guidance and clarification about the test for determining when records held in ministerial offices or the Prime Minister’s Office ought to be deemed under the control of a government institution.

In Bronskill v. Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Federal Court cautioned the Commissioner that in her investigations of national security claims, a “thorough and independent review must be undertaken with a critical mind, in keeping with the legislative objectives at play.” However, the decision provides important guidance on the exercise of discretion under the international affairs and defence exemption found in section 15 of the Access to Information Act.

In another case (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation v. Information Commissioner of Canada), the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the Information Commissioner’s authority to compel production of documents alleged to be excluded from the Act under section 68.1. This section covers records associated with the journalistic, creative or programming activities of the public broadcaster.

The Commissioner also advanced the interests of access requesters through her involvement in three proceedings that were discontinued prior to their being heard. In other proceedings, including Hibernia Management and Development Company Ltd. v Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, the Commissioner made substantive submissions in support of additional disclosure, including those based on the public’s interest in the information. 

Moreover, throughout 2011–2012, the Commissioner sought leave to intervene in a number of proceedings based, in part, on her expertise in relation to the application of the Act and her unique ombudsman role. The courts consistently granted the Commissioner leave to intervene as a party in these cases.

Internal services: Ensuring operational integrity and corporate support to investigations

We practice sound governance and stewardship of our limited resources, providing a solid foundation for our core business—investigations—and helping us ensure ongoing operational integrity.

Since 2009–2010, we have been implementing efficiency improvements to ensure we can continue to meet our mandate. As part of these improvements, we implemented a salary strategy in 2010–2011 aimed at ensuring we will have sufficient funding over the next three to five years to sustain operations and program delivery. This strategy addressed the chronic shortfall in our salary budget, which has historically been subsidized with operating funding, and the pressures created by the government-wide cost containment measures imposed in 2010–2011. If the decision is made to extend the cost containment measures beyond 2012–2013, we would have to absorb an additional $200,000 (2 percent of total appropriations), which would jeopardize our financial sustainability.

We have also decreased operating (non-salary) expenditures by 14 percent over the last three fiscal years due to reduced reliance on costly external professional services, and concluded negotiations with Public Works and Government Services Canada’s Shared Services to administer our human resources function as of April 10, 2012.

Internal audits have proven crucial to our ongoing efforts to improve our performance. In 2011–2012, we carried out a detailed internal audit of our investigative function and prepared a comprehensive plan to address the findings. We also continued to respond to the findings of the 2010 audit of our Intake and Early Resolution Unit, and refine the resulting processes and approaches. For more information, see the audit committee annual report on our website.Endnote 16

We carried out a self-assessment against the findings and recommendations of the Office of the Comptroller General’s horizontal audits of small departments and agencies. This proved to be a valuable exercise, since it allowed us to judge the adequacy of internal controls, processes and governance frameworks, feeds into the risk assessment process and may preempt the need for us to carry out similar audits ourselves.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) conducted an audit of our staffing practices in the fall of 2011. The final results will be published in the fall of 2012. We are currently working to implement all of the PSC’s recommendations.

We carried out major initiatives in the areas of IM/IT and security. See “Risk analysis,” above, for details.

Among our efforts to support our investigative function and ensure we can deliver on our mandate, we increased the capacity of our legal services team. This will also make it possible for us to conduct more litigation in house, rather than having to hire expensive external resources.

Managers were required to take specific leadership training, while, for employees in positions classified as EX minus 1 and 2, we established a partnership with the Library of Parliament for leadership training opportunities.

On the corporate services side, we now require our financial officers to take specific courses and are recruiting financial officers with an accounting designation.

Lessons learned

The year 2011–2012 was a challenging one in many regards. As our caseload continued to grow in complexity, we continued to work with no financial flexibility to respond to the circumstances that arose. Within those parameters, we made a conscious decision to tackle some of our oldest and most difficult cases. We also continued to strive to close as many files as possible by examining our caseload, and developing smart strategies for dealing with the types of complaints we were receiving and the challenges we faced.

In reviewing both our business model and auditing our investigation function, we found that there were ways that we could continue to fine-tune and improve processes to increase efficiency and to provide the tools and training our investigators need to work at their best.

Ensuring a complete staff complement remains a challenge, but one we responded quickly to in 2011–2012 through new hires and our existing training program, both of which we used to fill the gaps and improve our productivity. We were pleased to see that we could promote staff internally who had been part of our career development program.

We are working hard to integrate our 2011–2014 strategic plan into our corporate culture, as we strive to bring a united vision to our work and set and achieve realistic goals that further the cause of access to information. Throughout the year, we sought through staff meetings and in all our reporting to ensure that everyone at the OIC was mindful of our key result areas and the goals we had set for ourselves.

Resource restraints continued to be a reality for us in 2011–2012. We are now faced with further cuts, stemming from Budget 2012. These cuts will eliminate any flexibility we had to deal with unforeseen circumstances and also will require us to further slim down our workforce. We expect this will have an adverse impact on the program results, including our ability to deal with the demands of the current inventory. We are vulnerable to unexpected spikes in workload triggered by events outside of our control, such as an influx of complaints or unexpected court cases. Moreover, the impact of downsizing on senior-level positions will place additional stress on our program. We are also concerned that the staff reduction will make us more vulnerable to risks in terms of financial accountability and governance.

Ongoing financial uncertainty also stems from the relocation of our office in 2013–2014, required by Public Works and Government Services Canada. Preliminary estimates show that the relocation costs could be as high as $3 million, while the source of this funding remains unknown. In its absence, we will not be able to move. Conversely, there is a possibility that we would have pay back any Treasury Board funding we might receive. This would have a significant impact on our budget.

As the Commissioner stated before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates on June 14, 2010, we expect there to be negative impact from the cuts on the health of the access to information system as a whole, since institutions across government are having to work with reduced budgets. A risk we anticipate for coming years stems from the fact that, in times of restraint, institutions tend to cut in their internal services, including their access to information and privacy programs. The consequences of such cuts could include failure to meet legal requirements, declining performance and an increase in complaints to us.

Section III: Supplementary information

Financial highlights

Condensed Statement of Financial Position
As at March 31, 2012
($ )
  Change % 2011-12 2010-11
Total liabilities (31) 2,201,788 3,198,018
Total financial assets (35) 632,532 974,184
Net debt (29) 1,569,256 2,223,834
Total non-financial assets 7 1,127,561 1,127,561
Net financial position 62 (441,695) (1,172,515)
 
Condensed Statement of Operations and Net Financial Position
For the year ended March 31, 2012
($ )
  Change % 2011-12 2010-11
Total expenses (6) 13,694,557 14,498,196
Cost of operations before government funding (6) 13,694,557 14,498,196
Net financial position 62 (441,695) (1,172,515)

Assets, liabilities and expense breakdown

The following charts illustrate the breakdown of our assets, liabilities and expenses in 2011–2012.

 assets_by_types_1.jpg

Text version

This pie chart shows the various types of assets the Office of the Information Commissioner had in 2011–2012. Starting at the top right, the first section shows that 27 percent of assets ($480,000) were amounts due from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The next shows that 9 percent ($153,000) were accounts receivable and advances. The third section shows that 2 percent ($32,000) were prepaid expenses. The final section shows that 62 percent ($1,096,000) were tangible capital assets.

Our total assets for 2011–2012 were $1.76 million. The largest percentage of assets (62 percent) was made up of tangible capital assets. Amounts due from the Consolidated Revenue Fund comprised 27 percent of assets, with the balance in accounts receivable (primarily from other government departments) and prepaid expenses. The total amount represents a decrease of $265,000 (13 percent) from 2010–2011. The main reason for the drop in assets was a decrease in financial assets offset by a small increase in non-financial assets (primarily capital tangible assets). 

 liabilities_by_types_2.jpg

Text version

This pie chart shows the various types of liabilities the Office of the Information Commissioner had in 2011–2012. Starting at the top right, the first section shows that 21 percent of liabilities ($454,000) were accounts payable. The next shows that 9 percent ($196,000) were accrued employee salaries. The third section shows that 20 percent ($433,000) were vacation pay and compensatory leave. The final section shows that 50 percent ($1,119,000) were employee future benefits.

Our total liabilities in 2011–2012 were $2.2 million, made up of four items: employee future benefits (liability for severance pay) of $1.1 million (50 percent of total liabilities); accounts payable of $454,000 (21 percent)—primarily made up of money we owe to outside suppliers; liability for vacation pay and compensatory leave of $433,000 (20 percent), and accrued employee salaries of $196,000 (9 percent). The $2.2 million represents a reduction of $996,000 (31 percent) from 2010–2011. The major cause for this reduction was the decrease of $713,000 in Employee Future Benefits, resulting from payments of approximately $903,000 in severance benefits during the year.

 expense_breakdown_3.jpg

Text version

This pie chart shows the breakdown of expenses for the Office of the Information Commissioner during 2011–2012. Starting at the top right, the first section shows that 10 percent of expenses ($1,403,000) were for professional and special services. The next shows that 7 percent ($1,005,000) were for accommodation. The third section shows that 2 percent ($253,000) were for amortization. The next section shows that 4 percent were for expenses in a variety of categories: transportation and communication ($168,000), equipment ($117,000), rentals ($89,000), information ($85,000), utilities, materials and supplies ($58,000), repairs and maintenance ($27,000) and other ($6,000). The final section shows that 77 percent of expenses ($10,477,000) were for salaries and employee benefits.

Of the OIC’s expenditures in 2011–2012, fully 77 percent were salary costs, demonstrating the labour-intensive nature of our organization. In light of the high proportion of salary costs, any reduction in our funding has a large impact on our labour force, since our operating costs are minimal and cannot absorb these reductions. The next largest expenditure was for professional and special services (10 percent) followed by accomodation costs (7 percent). All other expenditures accounted for 6 percent of expense spending.

Financial statements

Our website contains the OIC’s most recent audited financial statements, Statement of Management Responsibility Including Internal Control over Financial Reporting, and the corresponding annex on the development and assessment of our system of internal controls.Endnote 17

Supplementary table

The internal audits and evaluations table may be found on the OIC's website.Endnote 18

Section IV: For more information

Layla Michaud
Director General, Corporate Services
Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada
7th Floor, Place de Ville, Tower B
112 Kent Street
Ottawa ON K1A 1H3

Tel.: 613-995-2864
Fax: 613-995-1501
Email: layla.michaud@oic-ci.gc.ca
Website: www.oic-ci.gc.ca

Endnotes

Endnotes

Endnote 1

Return to Endnote 1referrer Access to Information Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. A-1: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/A-1/

Endnote 2

Return to first Endnote 2 referrer Right to Know Week: http://www.righttoknow.ca/en/Content/default.asp

Endnote 3

Return to Endnote 3 referrer Office of the Information Commissioner, Risk-Based Audit Plan: http://www.>oic-ci.gc.ca/eng/risk-based-audit-plan-plan-verification-fonction-du-risque-2010-2013.aspx

Endnote 4

Return to Endnote 4 referrer Office of the Information Commissioner, 2010–2011 report cards: http://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr_spe-rep_rap-spe_rep-car_fic-ren_measuring-up-etre-a-la-hauteur.aspx

Endnote 5

Return to Endnote 5 referrer Office of the Information Commissioner, 2011–2012 annual report: http://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr_ar-ra.aspx

Endnote 6

Return to Endnote 6 referrer Public Accounts of Canada 2012: http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/recgen/txt/72-eng.html

Endnote 7

Return to Endnote 7 referrer 2011–2012 Report on Plans and Priorities: http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/rpp/2011-2012/index-eng.asp?acr=1797

Endnote 8

Return to Endnote 8 referrer Office of the Information Commissioner, Triage of complaints: http://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/eng/inv-inv_pd-dp_triage-complaints-plaintes.aspx

Endnote 9

Return to Endnote 9 referrer Office of the Information Commissioner, 2010–2011 Departmental Performance Report: http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/dpr-rmr/2010-2011/inst/nd5/nd500-eng.asp

Endnote 10

Return to Endnote 10 referrer Office of the Information Commissioner, 2008–2009 report cards: http://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr_spe-rep_rap-spe_rep-car_fic-ren_2008-2009.aspx

Endnote 11

Return to Endnote 11 referrer Office of the Information Commissioner, 2010–2011 report cards: http://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr_spe-rep_rap-spe_rep-car_fic-ren_measuring-up-etre-a-la-hauteur.aspx

Endnote 12

Return to Endnote 12 referrer Office of the Information Commissioner, advisory notice: http://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/eng/inv-inv_advisory-notices-avis-information_special-delegations-speciales.aspx

Endnote 13

Return to Endnote 13 referrer See Office of the Information Commissioner, http://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/eng/abu-ans_cor-inf-inf-cor-stategic-planning-plan-strategique_2011-2014.aspx#6

Endnote 14

Return to Endnote 14 referrer See http://www.newswire.ca/en/story/854165/canada-endorses-an-international-resolution-on-access-to-information

Endnote 15

Return to Endnote 15 referrer See http://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/eng/rr-sl-odi-adi_2012_1.aspx

Endnote 16

Return to Endnote 16 referrer Office of the Information Commissioner, audit committee annual report: http://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/eng/abu-ans_cor-inf-inf-cor_audit-committee-comite-de-verification_annual-report-rapport-annuel_2011-2012.aspx

Endnote 17

Return to Endnote 17 referrer Office of the Information Commissioner, financial statements: http://www.OIC-ci.gc.ca/eng/abu-ans_cor-inf-inf-cor_oag-report-rapport-bvg.aspx; and annex: http://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/eng/abu-ans_cor-inf-inf-cor_fofs-evif_2010-2011_annex-annexe.aspx

Endnote 18

Return to Endnote 18 referrer See http://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/eng/reports-publications-rapports-publications-dpr-rmr_2011-2012_supplementary-table-tableau-supplementaire.aspx