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B: Report Cards: Part II
As part of the proactive mandate of the commissioner’s office, each year a department (or departments) is selected to be the subject of a broad review to determine the extent to which the department is meeting its responsibilities under the Access to Information Act. The responsibilities and requirements can be set out in the Act or its Regulations, such as the timelines required to respond to an access request. Or the responsibilities may emanate from Treasury Board Secretariat or departmental policies, procedures, or other documentation in place to support the access to information process.
Fundamental to the access to information régime are the principles set out in the "Purpose" section of the Access to Information Act. These principles are:
- Government information should be available to the public;
- Necessary exemptions to the right of access should be limited and specific;
- Decisions on the disclosure of government information should be reviewed independently of government.
Unlike the report cards described in Part I of this chapter, which focused on delays, the scope of these reviews seeks to capture an extensive array of data and statistical information to determine how a government institution and its Access to Information (ATI) office are supporting their responsibilities under the Act. The new report card is divided into chapters, as follows:
- Access process and how it is managed;
- Deemed-refusal situation;
- Resources devoted to ATI and their adequacy;
- Leadership framework to create a culture of access to information in the institution;
- Information management framework as an underpinning of ATI;
- Complaint profile for ATI from the perspective of the Office of the Information Commissioner.
In 2005-06, four institutions were selected for review – Finance Canada (Fin), the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada (PSEPC), and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Each department completed an extensive Report Card Questionnaire. The completed questionnaire was used as the starting point for an interview with the ATI coordinator of each institution. In addition, a random sample of approximately 15 completed access request files were reviewed to determine how decisions about access requests were made, approved, and documented.
The grading scale used in the new report cards is described in the following table.
Overall ATI Operations
|A = Ideal
- All policies, procedures, operational plan, training plan, staffing in place
- Evidence of senior management support including an ATI Vision
- Streamlined approval process with authority delegated to ATIP Coordinator
- 5% or less deemed refusals
|B = Substantial
- Minor deficiencies to the ideal that can easily be rectified
- 10% or less deemed refusals
|C = Borderline
- Deficiencies to be dealt with
|D = Below Standard
- Major deficiencies to be dealt with
|F = Red Alert
- So many major deficiencies that a significant departmental effort is required to deal with their resolution or many major persistent deficiencies that have not been dealt with over the years
On the above grading scale, the Immigration and Refugee Board, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police each rated an "F". Their performance was Red Alert. However, Finance Canada rated a "C", Substantial Compliance. Finance Canada is to be congratulated, as, of the 19 institutions reviewed over the years, only one other received a grade other than "F" on its first report.
Finance Canada has made progress in reducing the deemed-refusal situation. The department is encouraged to continue its efforts to make further progress to achieve a higher grade.
This report card makes a number of recommendations for ATI operations in Finance Canada. Of particular note, an essential component in the administrative framework to support the operation of the Access to Information Act is the development of an ATI Operational Plan for the ATIP Directorate. The plan would establish priorities, tasks and resources, deliverables, milestones, timeframes, and responsibilities to implement the business plan and those recommendations in this Report Card that are accepted by the department. Other recommendations focus on the need to have up-to-date, comprehensive documentation in place to promote consistent decision-making by individuals with responsibilities in the operations supporting the Access to Information Act. These individuals require ATI training to support the fulfillment of their responsibilities.
IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE BOARD
The report card identified a serious deemed-refusal situation and lack of an up-to-date ATI support structure in the IRB’s current policies, procedures, and technology. Although the ATIP Director (who was appointed to the position in December 2005) has recognized the need to have the support structure updated and started on some projects, there is no comprehensive plan that covers all aspects of what must be accomplished.
Of particular note among the recommendations for ATI operations in the IRB is the development of an ATI Operational and Improvement Plan for the ATIP Directorate, an essential component in the administrative framework to support the operation of the Access to Information Act. The plan would establish priorities, tasks and resources, deliverables, milestones, timeframes, and responsibilities to guide improvements to the administration of the Access to Information Act in the ATIP Directorate and the IRB. Senior management of the IRB should monitor the plan. Other recommendations focus on the need to review the access request approval process to reduce reviews. The ATIP Director has fully delegated authority to make decisions under the Access to Information Act, and that delegation should be exercised without senior level approvals. Senior staff should be informed, as required, in a parallel process.
PUBLIC SAFETY AND EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS CANADA
There exists a serious and persistent deemed-refusal situation in the department. The internal departmental process for finalizing the access request release package is subject to numerous reviews and approvals. The effect of this is to delay the processing of an access request to the point that it is almost impossible to meet the statutory requirements of the Act. Numerous reviews and approvals prior to the release of records also foster an institutional culture of "play it safe".
The report card recommended the development of an ATI Operational and Improvement Plan for the ATIP Office. The plan would establish priorities, tasks and resources, deliverables, milestones, timeframes, and responsibilities to implement the business plan and those recommendations in this Report Card that are accepted by the department. Other recommendations focus on the need to have up-to-date, comprehensive documentation in place to promote consistent decision-making by individuals with responsibilities in the operations supporting the Access to Information Act.
ROYAL CANADIAN MOUNTED POLICE
As in the report card for two other institutions, the review identified a serious and persistent deemed-refusal situation that the RCMP is just starting to address. The situation appears to be the result of staffing reductions that left the ATIP Office over a number of years with significantly fewer staff positions than required to process access requests. The condition has deteriorated to the point where three out of every four access requests have been answered beyond the statutory time requirements of the Act. Senior management of the RCMP is now engaged in solving the problem. For example, it recently allocated an additional 20 positions to the ATIP Office.
In this case too, the report card recommends that the RCMP develop an ATI Operational Plan for the ATIP Office. In addition, an ATI Improvement Plan is urgently needed to guide a dramatic improvement in the deemed-refusal situation. Both plans would establish priorities, tasks and resources, deliverables, milestones, timeframes, and responsibilities to implement the operational plan and the improvement plan, and those recommendations in this report card that are accepted by the RCMP. Other recommendations focus on the need to have up-to-date comprehensive documentation in place to promote consistent decision-making by individuals with responsibilities in the operations supporting the Access to Information Act. These individuals require regular ATI training to support the fulfillment of their responsibilities.
All four institutions have recognized that they have serious problems in the processes that support the administration of the Access to Information Act. Each institution in 2005-06 took some positive initial remedial actions. But there was no commitment, at the time of the report cards, as to precisely how and when all of the serious deficiencies described in the report cards will be addressed and how improvements will be sustained.
A critical component of the administration of the Access to Information Act is the leadership role of the ATI coordinator and senior management in a department. Senior management exercises leadership by identifying access to information as a departmental priority and then acting upon this by providing the appropriate resources, technology, training, and policies. Together with the ATI coordinator, it is important for senior management to foster a culture of openness and access to departmental information, by adopting and staying engaged in a remedial plan with clearly defined deliverables and critical dates.
The full text of the report cards is available on our website at www.oic-ci.gc.ca.