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An improved investigative process
We undertook a critical exam of our key business processes and productivity levels based on case type and complexity, and did significant business re-engineering, to address case management issues that have contributed to the growing inventory. We introduced the resulting streamlined investigative process in the fall of 2008–2009 (see diagram below).
1 For more information, go to rp-pr_ar-ra_2007-2008_1.aspx
Pre-April 1, 2008 cases
Our goal is to eliminate the older inventory of 1,594 cases by March 31, 2010. A multi-disciplinary team of experienced employees reviewed these cases and recommended the best strategies for completing them expeditiously. We then established a dedicated team, the Strategic Case Management Team, to implement these strategies, working closely with complainants and institutions. The team first worked on administrative complaints that it could complete quickly. This brought immediate and substantial results: in only four months, the team completed 489 cases, representing a 31 percent decrease in the inventory (see Chapter 3).
Post-April 1, 2008 cases
For post-April 1, 2008 cases, we now take a three-step approach.
First, to ensure that investigators do not spend time on administrative tasks ─ such as setting up files, delivering the notice of intent to investigate to the institution, and gathering initial information ─, we process complaints through the Intake Unit. This unit does the initial assessment and preparation of complaints to be investigated. It reviews documentation related to the original access request and gathers information from the complainant and the institution to undertake the initial assessment. It also ensures that the complaint is made in accordance with the Act before it is processed any further.
Moving quickly on priorities
One group of complaints involved access requests submitted to various institutions where extensions were taken. Using our new procedures, the Intake Unit determined that there was the possibility of significant loss of rights which could result from delays. The cases were immediately assigned on a priority basis.
The Intake Unit prioritizes cases that can be resolved quickly and easily, according to a set of criteria (see checklist below). It also identifies administrative efficiencies in the processing of complaints both for ourselves and for institutions with which we interact.
Candidates for early resolution?
What’s the priority?
These complaints involve, for example, extensions, fees (particularly for photocopies), deemed refusals (delays beyond the times set out in the Act), and misdirected requests.
Are there crucial deadlines to meet, such as those for court cases?
Is there a risk of loss of rights, or are broader human rights at stake?
Are there concerns for public safety?
These complaints involve records to which the Act does not apply, such as those placed in library and archives for public use.
Does the case affect the public interest?
Are there systemic issues involved?
Does the file centre on national security or government accountability?
Is there judicial interest?
All complaints involving mandatory exemptions and those involving discretionary exemptions, when the file involves a low number of records, all of which are readily available. (Information may be exempted when, for example, it may compromise the safety of an individual. Personal information is also exempted.)
Nature of the complaint
Is it an administrative complaint or one about a refusal due to an exemption or exclusion?
How complex is the case?
What volume of records is involved?
What is the subject matter?
These include the probability of resolution and the location of the institution.
Is the statutory duty to assist at issue?
How long has the file been registered?
What are the complainant’s priorities?
Is there parliamentary interest?
Second, the Early Resolution Unit investigates cases that have been earmarked for early resolution by the Intake Unit. Through mediation and negotiation, it attempts to reach an early resolution of complaints to the satisfaction of the complainant and the institution.
Early resolution through negotiation
A case of multiple complaints from a single requester about time extensions emphasizes the benefits of an early resolution mechanism involving flexible approaches and alternative dispute resolution methods.
A complainant alleged that time extensions ranging from 240 to 365 days that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) invoked in 54 cases were excessive.
The extensions were invoked under paragraph 9(1)(a) of the Act, which means they must meet two criteria: that the request is for a large volume of records, or requires a search through a large volume of records, and that, consequently, meeting the original time limit would unreasonably interfere with operations.
In this case, CRA took the view that, because the complainant submitted multiple requests and was therefore responsible for a large percentage of the access to information office’s workload, it had little option but to claim extensions in order to be able to process all of the requests.
All 54 complaints were assigned to one investigator, with the Early Resolution Unit, who met with CRA officials on a number of occasions to discuss their rationale for invoking these extensions. Through concerted efforts and negotiations with both the institution and the complainant, we were able to conclude our investigation within one week after receiving all pertinent documents from the institution. The complaints were resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
Third, we assign cases that do not qualify for early resolution, or those for which early resolution was not successful, to the Complaints Resolution and Compliance team. These more complex cases are advanced based on the priority established by the Intake Unit.
Our approach aims at achieving satisfactory results through mediated or negotiated outcomes, as early as possible in the review, and avoiding the need for more drastic, adversarial proceedings, which are both costly and time-consuming. However, for institutions that disregard the law or fail to take advantage of alternative case resolution, we will take the necessary action to respond to non-compliance.
New streamlined approaches for Cabinet confidences
The Intake Unit reviewed processes in relation to complaints involving Cabinet confidences. Previously, we would open separate investigative files with the originating institution and the Privy Council Office’s (PCO) access to information office, which would in turn notify Cabinet Confidences Counsel. The Counsel, which is responsible for verifying that records qualify as Cabinet confidences, would then contact the originating institution to initiate a second review of the records at issue.
Under a new, streamlined approach, we forward a copy of the notice of intent to investigate to the Counsel, with which we then work directly. We no longer initiate a separate complaint against PCO. This means that PCO’s access to information office is no longer automatically involved and no longer needs to report the fact that it received complaints with respect to Cabinet confidences emanating from other institutions. This approach eliminates duplication of files among offices within PCO and the institution.
We decided to discontinue such duplicate complaints against PCO (82) and simply investigate the Cabinet confidence complaints made against the originating institutions. As a result, we have eliminated duplication and unnecessary administrative actions in our own office.