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Classification of complaints
As noted previously, this is a transition year for the report cards process. It marks a first attempt to introduce a significant change to the performance assessment framework. The OIC is confident that the new framework will represent a major improvement over what we have used until now. During the course of the process, we have identified additional areas for improvement. We also solicited the views of institutions on issues to be factored in the development of a better and more effective performance measurement framework.
A common concern focused on the way the OIC classifies the outcomes of our investigations. These outcomes fall into one of three disposition categories:
- resolved: the complainant has a justifiable complaint and the institution has resolved the complaint to the Commissioner’s satisfaction;
- not substantiated: the applicant’s complaint was dismissed as unjustifiable and the institution took no further action; and
- not resolved: the complaint was found to have merit but resolution would only be achieved by way of court action.
Institutions have argued that the resolved category comprises too many types of outcomes. Some of these cases may indeed be instances of improper application of the Act by an institution, for example, withholding of information that should not have been exempted or excluded. But in many cases, a resolved complaint may be one in which the reasons for withholding information have changed with the passage of time or in which minimal additional information is released as a result of the intervention of our office. It has been argued that describing all investigations that lead to additional disclosure of information as having been resolved does not appropriately reflect the dialogue that takes place between the OIC and the institution as we work to resolve a complaint. It may also give a misleading impression of the institutional performance.
The Office of the Information Commissioner will review how closed complaints are classified with a view to developing and implementing by 2009–2010 a new set of disposition categories that provide a more accurate picture of institutional performance.
Releasing information under the Act
There are many detailed questions regarding institutional performance under the Act that we could examine. Consider, for example, the duty to assist provision:
The head of a government institution shall, without regard to the identity of a person making a request for access to a record under the control of the institution, make every reasonable effort to assist the person in connection with the request, respond to the request accurately and completely and, subject to the regulations, provide timely access to the record in the format requested.
In other words, the spirit of the legislation can be summarized by three obligations that institutions must fulfill:
- make every reasonable effort to assist requesters;
- release as much information as possible; and
- release information as quickly as possible.
The OIC had set out to assess how well institutions are doing on the latter two points in this report cards process. Whether we were looking broadly at system-wide issues related to the Act, or focusing on the performance of the ten selected institutions, our primary objective was to shed light on the extent to which institutions are releasing as much information as the Act permits and are getting that information to Canadians as quickly as the Act allows. To the extent that institutions fail to live up to the spirit and letter of the Act, we wanted to understand the root causes and make suggestions for improved performance.
The OIC had planned to derive from an analysis of investigative files whether an institution released to requesters the maximum amount of information that would be required by the Act. After examining a sample of complaint files, we concluded that the information was not sufficient for a reliable review of completeness and accuracy.
The Office of the Information Commissioner will develop and implement by 2009–2010 criteria for measuring the degree to which an institution is releasing information in compliance with the Access to Information Act, and will document the OIC complaint files appropriately.
Report cards process
Institutions commented on the lack of notice they received about the type and scope of information we gathered as part of the process, which, for the most part, they were not able to generate from their case management systems. Quite understandably, without knowing the specifics, institutions felt that they were not able to prepare adequately and allocate resources accordingly.
The report cards exercise is about providing constructive criticism to encourage each institution to become more effective in meeting its obligations under the Act. It is not meant to be a carpet-bombing tactic. We believe that institutions will fare better if we advise them in advance of areas that require improvements.
The Office of the Information Commissioner will prepare and widely publish a triennial plan for institutional performance reviews.