Archived Content

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.

Report Cards


Year


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

Health Canada

Health Canada helps Canadians maintain and improve their health. In partnership with provincial and territorial governments, Health Canada develops health policy, enforces regulations, promotes disease prevention and enhances healthy living for all Canadians. It also ensures that health services are available and accessible to First Nations and Inuit communities.

2008–2009 report card at a glance

whole star whole star empty star empty star empty star
D

  • The deemed refusal rate was 19.3 percent; it has been approximately 20 percent since 2004.
  • The average time to complete a request was 132 days.
  • Health Canada carried over 359 files into 2008–2009; the carry-over into 2009–2010 was 494 files.
  • 68 percent of overdue requests were completed more than 30 days after their due date.
  • Health Canada submitted the required notices of extensions of more than 30 days 72 percent of the time.
  • Until November 2009, Health Canada had a protracted approval process and delayed the release of records deemed to be of “high sensitivity.” Health Canada reported that it eliminated this process in November 2009.
  • More than half (52 percent) of all the extensions Health Canada took were under paragraph 9(1)(a) and 31 percent of these were for more than 90 days.
  • The access to information office had a 50 percent staff turnover in 2008–2009.
  • Health Canada senior management endorsed the three-phase Access to Information Transformation Action Plan in February 2009.
  • An early intake unit was created in the access to information office in late 2008–2009.
  • Health Canada is in the process of implementing a number of institutional records management initiatives.

Some facts about access to information operations at Health Canada in 2008–2009

Number of requests carried over from 2007–2008
359
Number of new requests
1,158
Number of requests completed
950
Deemed refusal rate
19.3%*
Average time to complete a request (in days)
132
Number of consultation requests
204
Number of complaints registered with the Office of the Information Commissioner
43
Number of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner resolved
9**
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information office, as of March 31, 2009
19.5
 

* 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

Health Canada’s compliance with the Access to Information Act has been below average in recent years, following two years of good grades (2002 and 2003). The institution managed a slight improvement in 2007–2008, which brought its deemed refusal rate down to 16.6 percent, the lowest in four years, despite a 97 percent increase in the number of pages it had to process. The institution committed to continuing to make process changes in an effort to improve compliance. In particular, Health Canada committed to developing and introducing a new case processing model that respects the timelines set out in the Access to Information Act and ensures more efficient management of requests. Health Canada routinely delayed requests categorized as sensitive, due to problems getting the release package to senior officials promptly for review and only giving the package to communications officials on the day it was to be released. Health Canada committed to reviewing its processes to determine where efficiencies could be introduced to bring them within legislated timelines. Health Canada started 2008–2009 looking forward to a pilot test of a new document management system, which officials hoped would help reduce the time required for records holders to retrieve records. The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) is encouraged that Health Canada has addressed several of the shortcomings identified in the recommendations in the 2007–2008 report card. However, at the end of 2008–2009, the OIC was still not satisfied that Health Canada has ceased to delay the processing of files its dubs “high sensitivity.”

2008–2009 report card

Despite the promise of various initiatives, Health Canada’s deemed refusal rate slipped to 19.3 percent for 2008–2009, negating the gains of the previous year. More disturbing is the institution’s inability to make any significant improvement on that figure. Health Canada’s deemed refusal rate has been around 20 percent since 2004.

A backlog of access to information requests continued to hamper Health Canada’s ability to improve its compliance. The institution did clear the backlog of its oldest files (from 2004 to 2006) in 2008–2009 but must now process the files from 2007 onwards, as well as the 494 requests it carried over into 2009–2010.

As the OIC observed during numerous complaint investigations, including the Canadian Newspaper Association complaint Health Canada has a particularly long approval process for what it calls “high sensitivity” files. These represent approximately 10 percent of the requests it receives. The access to information coordinator has fully delegated authority to issue responses. However, once a release package is signed off by the coordinator, it is sent to the deputy minister for review. Prior to November 2009, the release package could be sent out only after receiving the approval of the deputy minister. Health Canada reported that this process was abolished as of November 2009; senior management no longer approves releases, except in exceptional circumstances.

The OIC notes two problems with Health Canada’s use of extensions under paragraph 9(1)(a) of the Access to Information Act. First, these extensions account for 52 percent of all extensions. According to access to information officials, this stemmed from analysts’ large workloads and the effects of the backlog. Officials acknowledged that they should not have taken such extensions, and have stopped the practice. Second, the OIC was concerned that 31 percent of extensions under paragraph 9(1)(a) were for more than 90 days—a sign that the institution was not able to manage the volume of requests in 2008–2009, which Health Canada attributed to a 50 percent turnaround in staff that year. The institution has since made it a priority to document all justifications for extensions, including reasons for their length. Extensions taken under paragraph 9(1)(a) now require approval, typically from a team leader.

Information management continues to be a challenge for Health Canada. Access officials noted that employees at all levels rely heavily on email and common drives to store documents, which makes locating relevant records difficult. The access to information office is actively working with the institution’s information management group to strengthen proper information management practices. Health Canada as a whole is in the process of implementing a number of initiatives to improve records keeping.

The access to information office adopted a new business model that saw the creation of an intake unit late in 2008–2009. Health Canada designed this new unit to take over the front-end administrative functions associated with access requests, which would leave analysts to focus on files. While Health Canada was optimistic about the efficiencies this would bring, it was too early to have measurable results in 2008–2009.

The OIC is especially concerned that Health Canada has gone many years showing only limited improvements in its compliance with the Access to Information Act. The OIC questions whether there is a clear message coming from the senior levels of Health Canada that access to information must be a priority. However, Health Canada’s senior management endorsed a three-year plan to transform the access to information function at the institution in February 2009. The OIC expects that the implementation of this plan will bear fruit in terms of improved compliance in the coming years.

Recommendations

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the deputy minister of Health Canada continue to take a strong leadership role in establishing a culture of compliance throughout the institution. Such a role requires the unwavering endorsement of the minister.

Response

Since February 2009, senior management at Health Canada has been fully engaged in access to information issues in the department. Senior Management Board’s endorsement of an access to information action plan for the department, and its continual support of the access to information function, clearly illustrate that access to information is a priority for the department.

Since February 2009, Health Canada’s senior management has been actively supporting the transformation of access to information at Health Canada and ensuring that key compliance issues are being addressed in a truly transformative and collaborative fashion.

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Health Canada strictly follow the delegated authority of the access to information coordinator and eliminate additional levels of approval.

Response

Health Canada continues to follow the delegated authority of the access to information coordinator and has eliminated additional levels of approval.

Health Canada eliminated the HI-SENS approval process. This practice has been replaced with a notification process that results in overall improved compliance.

3. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Health Canada develop a clear plan to tackle the backlog of access requests.

Response

Health Canada continues to address its backlog of access requests via a two-fold approach:

  • Health Canada has maintained its concentrated effort on the closure of all outstanding 2007 files. It began the fiscal year with 73 outstanding files and now has only 17 files left to complete.
  • Health Canada has established a fast-track request processing stream, and will be dedicating a resource to access to information timelines management.

These efforts will decrease the number of new deemed refusals and will provide the continued concentrated effort required to tackle the growth of the backlog.

4. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Health Canada document and review the criteria it uses for extensions to ensure that the extensions are reasonable and legitimate.

Response

Health Canada has examined and reviewed the criteria it uses when invoking extensions to ensure that they are reasonable and legitimate.

Health Canada has implemented a graduated approval process for the invoking of extensions, and requires that its staff both document and justify any time extensions taken.

This review was undertaken last year and the focus on the appropriate taking of extensions continues to be a focus of Health Canada.

This recommendation is not necessary.

5. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Health Canada identify and implement the necessary enhancement to records management systems to ensure a quick and proper search of records in response to an access to information request.

Response

Health Canada is in the process of implementing a number of departmental records management initiatives. These would support more efficient search and retrieval responses for records related to access to information requests and include the following:

  • a storage management strategy, in line with the Government of Canada information management guidelines;
  • testing of a powerful search engine in January 2010 that, if supported, may increase office of primary interest search capability;
  • building a new business enterprise software that has single instance storage and a potential file classification system for data over the next two years; and
  • implementing the Directive on Recordkeeping announced by Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat/ Library and Archives Canada.

6. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Health Canada strive to reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

Response

Health Canada continues to strive to reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

Since the fall of 2008, the department has seen an 85 percent increase in files closed year-to-date, compared to last fiscal, closing 1,072 files between April 1, 2009, and January 8, 2010, compared to 579 files the previous year.

The access to information office has also experienced a significant drop, from 50 percent to 10 percent, in turnover of operations staff (projected to be 20 percent by year-end).

Health Canada developed the three-phase Access to Information Transformation Action Plan. Implementation began in the fall of 2008.

The action plan addresses challenges in meeting legislative requirements and includes governance of access to information at Health Canada, partnerships with both internal clients and other government institutions, supporting release readiness and teamwork, integration of collaborations with offices of primary interest, and the need to strengthen the access to information operations workforce.


Deemed refusal rate, 2004 to 2008–2009

This graph shows the deemed refusal rate for Health Canada for the last five reporting periods. This is the percentage of carried over and new requests Health Canada 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

Health Canada reported that it completed 142 of the requests it received in 2008–2009 after their due date. This graph shows how long these requests stayed open beyond that deadline. It is of concern that 68 percent of these requests were late by more 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 Health Canada 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. Health Canada submitted the notices 72 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 Health Canada in the last three reporting periods: complaints about deemed refusals (access to information requests that Health Canada delayed beyond the deadlines—30 days and extended—set out in the Access to Information Act) and complaints about Health Canada’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 total number of deemed refusal complaints decreased from 2006–2007 to 2007–2008, and then remained about the same in 2008–2009 (33; 23; 22). The number of resolved deemed refusal complaints decreased each year (31; 21; 5), particularly between 2007–2008 and 2008–2009, but the OIC discontinued 4 complaints at the request of complainants and 13 complaints were pending at the end of 2008–2009.

Time extension complaints

Time extension complaints

The number of time extension complaints increased significantly from 2006–2007 to 2007–2008, and then decreased the subsequent year (3; 23; 11). The number of resolved time extension complaints was highest in 2007–2008 (16), and subsequently decreased to 4 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 Health Canada 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 38 5 0 0 43
Refusals 8 3 1 2 14
Cabinet confidences 0 0 1 0 1
Total 46 8 2 2 58
2007–2008
Administrative 38 2 7 3 50
Refusals 2 1 4 8 15
Cabinet confidences 0 1 0 0 1
Total 40 4 11 11 66
2008–2009
Administrative 9 1 10 14 34
Refusals 0 1 0 7 8
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 1 1
Total 9 2 10 22 43

The number of administrative complaints (which includes complaints about overdue requests and time extensions) the OIC resolved was very high in both 2006–2007 and 2007–2008 (38 of 43; 38 of 50) but decreased in 2008–2009 (9 of 34). At the end of 2008–2009, 22 complaints were pending.