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Report Cards


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Institutions assessed in 2007–2008 and reassessed in 2008–2009

Department of Justice Canada

The Department of Justice Canada oversees all matters relating to the administration of justice at the federal level. It provides a range of legal advisory, litigation and legislative services to government departments and agencies, and supports the Minister of Justice in advising Cabinet on all legal matters, including the constitutionality of government initiatives and activities.

2008–2009 report card at a glance

whole star whole star whole star whole star whole star
A

  • Deemed refusal rate of 3.6 percent.
  • Leadership on the part of senior officials helped ensure a second consecutive A rating, after three consecutive F ratings.
  • The Department of Justice received nearly three times as many consultation requests as access requests.
  • Support for access to information from senior management has created a culture of compliance across the organization.
  • The access to information coordinator has full delegation, which is respected throughout the institution.
  • Only three requests were completed after their due date, and each was closed within 30 days of that deadline.
  • The Office of the Information Commissioner resolved 2 out of 29 complaints, finding 14 of them to be not substantiated.
  • The Department of Justice submitted notices of extensions of more than 30 days in 82 percent of cases.

Some facts about access to information operations at the Department of Justice Canada in 2008–2009

Number of requests carried over from 2007–2008
69
Number of new requests
289
Number of requests completed
305
Deemed refusal rate
3.6%*
Average time to complete a request (in days)
59
Number of consultation requests
902
Number of complaints registered with the Office of the Information Commissioner
29
Number of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner resolved
2**
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information office, as of March 31, 2009
18.9
 

* Percentage of carried over and new requests delayed beyond the deadlines (30 days and extended) set out in the Access to Information Act. (See Appendix B for the formula the Office of the Information Commissioner used to calculate this rate.)

** A complaint is resolved when the Office of the Information Commissioner finds it has merit, and the institution resolves it to the Commissioner’s satisfaction.


Follow-up on 2007–2008 report card

The Department of Justice Canada’s strong report card in 2007–2008 came on the heels of several years of poor ratings, starting in 2004. Through leadership at senior levels and by implementing numerous process improvements, the institution’s deemed refusal rate in 2007–2008 was just 4.4 percent, which put it among the top institutions surveyed. A significant factor in any year for the institution is the number of consultation requests it receives; in 2007–2008, these outnumbered access requests three to one for the Department of Justice. Nonetheless, the institution responded to them in 16 days on average, through fast-tracking procedures and memoranda of understanding with numerous institutions. One area of concern for the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) was the Department of Justice’s practice of closing access requests that had outstanding mandatory consultations. Access to information officials assured the OIC, however, that these situations were limited and specific and, most importantly, that officials advise requesters that additional records could be forthcoming, as well as of their redress rights. The OIC has not received complaints on this practice. The Department of Justice generally complied with the OIC’s recommendations in the 2007–2008 report card.

2008–2009 report card

The Department of Justice had another successful year in 2008–2009, with only 3.6 percent of its requests falling into the deemed refusal category. Moreover, it completed only three of the requests it received in 2008–2009 after their due date, and closed them all within the subsequent 30 days. The institution has shown considerable determination in maintaining its now two-year track record of excellent compliance, and the OIC acknowledges this accomplishment.

As testament to the notion that a successful access to information operation depends on the support of institutional leadership, the Department of Justice access to information office counts on firm commitment from its senior management, which is well communicated throughout the institution.

The access to information coordinator has full delegated authority, which is respected throughout the institution. Further, there is confidence in the access to information office, which has a number of experienced employees and reportedly healthy staff morale. Given these positive features and the strong institutional support, it would seem to follow that the Department of Justice would have the edge in attracting and retaining staff. However, it reported that it, too, has fallen victim to the aggressive recruitment that takes place among institutions competing for qualified personnel. Competitive processes involving two employees were concluded when both successful candidates decided to remain with their current employer.

The Department of Justice reports frustration with other institutions for lengthy consultation processes on some files, and continues to close partial release files, ensuring that applicants are advised that more records may be forthcoming, at which time complaint rights will still be in effect. In addition, the institution suggests to requesters that they could get their information faster by not asking for records likely to contain Cabinet confidences. The OIC has concerns about this practice, given its potential to diminish the number of records requestors would otherwise have a right to receive or to compromise requestors’ rights. The Department of Justice should exercise considerable caution if it chooses to continue this practice. A better approach in the OIC’s view would be for it to follow the required procedure and consult with the Privy Council Office on records containing any potential Cabinet confidences, bearing in mind court decisions that require certain information, such as background material, and analysis of problems or policy options, to be severed from records containing Cabinet confidences.

The access to information community is well aware of the Department of Justice’s success, and the OIC is encouraged to learn that federal institutions, as well as their provincial counterparts in Quebec, have approached the institution to find out more about its success. Initiatives such as memoranda of understanding, service standards for consultation turnaround times and a streamlined approval process—all within a very structured and supported environment—position this institution for continued success.

Recommendations

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Department of Justice Canada cease suggesting to requesters that they eliminate potential Cabinet confidences from their requests and follow due process to ensure that requesters receive all the documents to which they are legally entitled.

Response

The Department of Justice informs the applicant when the majority of the records are subject to Cabinet confidences (i.e. draft bills and memoranda to Cabinet). This is done with the assistance of the office of primary interest within the department.

In addition, the institution is being transparent by giving requesters the opportunity to provide informed consent as to how to proceed throughout the process. It also provides them with options when volume or search time is at issue. To assist requesters, and as part of the “duty to assist,” an overview of the content of the records is provided up front. Moreover, this practice is consistent with our service standards, which are posted on the Department of Justice website, under “Principles for Assisting Applicants.”

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Department of Justice Canada reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

Response

It has always been the Department of Justice’s goal to reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero. It will continue to strive to achieve that goal.

3. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Department of Justice Canada reduce its average completion time for requests.

Response

It has always been the Department of Justice’s goal to reduce the average completion time. It will continue to strive to achieve that goal.

4. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Department of Justice Canada comply with the Act and notify the Office of the Information Commissioner of the extensions it takes for more than 30 days.

Response

It is the Department of Justice’s practice to notify the OIC of the extensions it takes for more than 30 days. A reminder will be sent to all employees of the access to information office.


Deemed refusal rate, 2006 to 2008–2009

This graph shows the deemed refusal rate for the Department of Justice for the last five reporting periods. This is the percentage of carried over and new requests delayed each year beyond the deadlines (30 days and extended) set out in the Access to Information Act.

Deemed refusal rate, 2006 to 2008–2009

How long requests completed late were overdue, 2008–2009

The Department of Justice reported that it completed only three of the requests it received in 2008–2009 after their due date. This graph shows that the institution closed all three of them in fewer than 30 days.

Number and outcome of delay-related complaints to the OIC, 2006–2007 to 2008–2009

Number and length of time extensions reported in 2008–2009

This graph shows the number and length of the time extensions the Department of Justice reported to have taken in 2008–2009. The institution supplied this information in the notices it sent to the OIC under subsection 9(2) of the Access to Information Act. The Department of Justice submitted the notices 82 percent of the time in 2008–2009; the OIC expects this figure to be 100 percent in 2009–2010.

Number and outcome of delay-related complaints to the OIC, 2006–2007 to 2008–2009

Number and outcome of delay-related complaints to the OIC, 2006–2007 to 2008–2009

These graphs show the number and outcome of two types of complaint registered against the Department of Justice in the last three reporting periods: complaints about deemed refusals (access to information requests that the Department of Justice delayed beyond the deadlines—30 days and extended—set out in the Access to Information Act) and complaints about the Department of Justice’s use of the time extensions allowed under the Act. Resolved complaints are those that the OIC finds to have merit, and that the institution resolves to the Commissioner’s satisfaction.

Deemed refusal complaints

Deemed refusal complaints

The number of deemed refusal complaints decreased significantly from 2006–2007 to 2008–2009 (from seven to one). In 2008–2009, the Office of the Information Commissioner found the one deemed refusal complaint to be not substantiated.

Time extension complaints

Time extension complaints

There were two resolved time extension complaints in each of the first two reporting periods; there were none in 2008–2009.


Number and outcome of complaints to the OIC, 2006–2007 to 2008–2009

This table sets out the number and outcome of the complaints the OIC registered against the Department of Justice in each of the last three reporting periods. Resolved complaints are those that the OIC finds to have merit and that the institution resolves to the Commissioner’s satisfaction.

  Resolved Not
substantiated
Discontinued Pending Total
2006–2007
Administrative 8 3 1 0 12
Refusals 1 7 3 4 15
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 9 10 4 4 27
2007–2008
Administrative 3 18 4 0 25
Refusals 6 5 3 5 19
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 3 3
Total 9 23 7 8 47
2008–2009
Administrative 0 12 4 0 16
Refusals 2 2 2 5 11
Cabinet confidences 0 0 1 1 2
Total 2 14 7 6 29

The total number of complaints decreased significantly from 2007–2008 to 2008–2009 (47 to 29). The overall number of complaints the OIC resolved also decreased in that period (9; 9; 2). Each year, the proportion of resolved complaints to overall complaints decreased (33 percent; 19 percent; 7 percent). Not substantiated complaints equalled nearly one half of all complaints in 2008–2009 (14 out of 29).


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