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The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) helps to ensure that federal institutions respect the Access to Information Act (the Act)and make information more readily available in order to keep the federal government accountable to Canadians.
The Act gives any Canadian citizen, resident or company the right to request and receive information that federal institutions have. This could include documents, pictures, letters, emails and memos. There are some limitations, however: Cabinet documents; information that could harm Canada’s security or economy, federal-provincial relations or international affairs; as well as personal information about individuals.
Once an institution receives an access to information request, it must answer within 30 days, or justify a time extension. For example, the institution might need to consult with another institution, particularly about records which might involve Cabinet confidences or about records that if released, might affect Canada’s international relations. If it fails to answer within 30 days, the institution is deemed to have refused to give access (deemed refusal). In this and other cases where it is believed that the institution is not complying with the provisions of the Act, requesters can complain to the OIC.
The Office also conducts annual reviews of samples of federal institutions to assess their overall compliance with the Act and identify any problem areas that should be corrected. A new report cards process with an enhanced assessment framework was introduced for 2007-2008.
In addition to the usual data on deemed refusals and time extensions, the new framework includes contextual factors such as changes in workload, capacity, process or leadership, which provide a broader picture of institutional performance. The process has also allowed us to identify and analyze five issues that impact the ability of most institutions to fulfill their obligations under the Act. These system-wide issues are: information management, time extensions, consultations, human resources and leadership.
Based on a range of specific criteria, we selected a sample of ten institutions, including: Canada Border Services Agency; Department of Justice Canada; Department of National Defence; Foreign Affairs and International Trade; Health Canada; Library and Archives Canada; Natural Resources Canada; the Privy Council Office; Public Works and Government Services Canada; and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
These institutions were asked to complete a questionnaire about their access to information activities from April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2008.1 OIC staff met representatives of each institution to gather qualitative contextual information. A copy of each institution’s report card was then sent to the key access to information officials in that institution, asking for clarifications where needed and for an action plan to respond to our recommendations.
Chapter three contains the report card for each institution, along with a discussion of key challenges which have affected its performance in responding to access requests. It also includes our recommendations to help the organization improve its performance as well as the institution’s response. The analysis of system-wide issues is provided in Chapter one. While refining our assessment framework, we also looked for additional ways to improve the report cards process. Chapter two details our commitments in this regard.
The questionnaire and the answers provided by all en federal institutions can be consulte by clicking the questionnaire