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Report Cards


Year


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

National Defence

National Defence complements the role of the Canadian Forces and is responsible for policy, resources, interdepartmental coordination and international defence relations. The Canadian Forces command, control and administer all military strategy, plans and requirements.

2008–2009 report card at a glance

whole star whole star half star empty star empty star
D

  • The deemed refusal rate was 15.8 percent, which is only a slight improvement from 2007–2008.
  • The average time to complete a request was 125 days.
  • National Defence took extensions under subsection 9(1) of the Access to Information Act for 66 percent of the requests it received in 2008–2009. 76 percent of the extensions DND took were under paragraph 9(1)(a) of the Act; 80 percent of the extensions were for more than 90 days.
  • 80 percent of the complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner registered against National Defence in 2008–2009 were delay-related (about either requests completed late or problems associated with time extensions). 77 percent of these were about time extensions.
  • National Defence decreased its backlog by 34 percent.
  • National Defence fully complied with the requirement to submit a notice to the Office of the Information Commissioner each time it took an extension of more than 30 days.
  • The Information Support Team review process was streamlined and shortened; however, it still adds time to the processing of requests.
  • National Defence continues its good practice of listing topics of previously released records on the Internet and allowing requestors to access these records informally.
  • Access officials and senior management support ongoing efforts to increase compliance, such as training and hiring more staff.

Some facts about access to information operations at National Defence in 2008–2009

Number of requests carried over from 2007–2008
674
Number of new requests
1,669
Number of requests completed
1,761
Deemed refusal rate
15.8%*
Average time to complete a request (in days)
125
Number of consultation requests
440
Number of complaints registered with the Office of the Information Commissioner
226
Number of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner resolved
81**
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information office, as of March 31, 2009
61
 

* 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

National Defence faced a significant increase in workload in 2007–2008, at a time when the nature and sensitivity of its files were already causing the institution to add layers to the access to information process and, consequently, increasing the time it took to respond to requests. This led to National Defence’s receiving 2.5 stars on its 2007–2008 report card, with a deemed refusal rate of 18.5 percent. The institution subsequently committed to improve its process—and therefore its overall compliance with the Access to Information Act—to achieve what it views as the best possible balance between the security requirements of its work and the imperative to respect requestors’ rights. A critical factor identified for improved compliance was National Defence’s ability to eliminate its considerable backlog of outstanding requests, which increased in 2007–2008. The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) expressed concern in its 2007–2008 report card about National Defence’s use of extensions under paragraph 9(1)(a) of the Act—not only the number of such extensions but also the criteria the institution used for taking them. National Defence agreed that its use of extensions had increased but suggested that, in terms of interpreting the law, it was merely following standard guidance from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Nonetheless, National Defence agreed in 2008–2009 to look at its criteria for such extensions and related process improvements.

2008–2009 report card

National Defence’s compliance with the Act improved slightly in 2008–2009, with its deemed refusal rating dropping to 15.8 percent. National Defence completed 220 more requests in 2008–2009 than it did in the previous year. It also reduced its backlog by 34 percent, carrying 674 requests over into 2008–2009 but 443 into 2009–2010. Nonetheless, that large backlog is still a significant burden for National Defence, given that it equals about 27 percent of the volume of requests it received in 2008–2009.

The OIC has concerns with the frequency and duration of the extensions National Defence took in 2008–2009. It extended 66 percent of the 1,669 new requests it received, and 80 percent of these extensions were for more than 90 days.

The vast majority (80 percent) of the 226 complaints the OIC received about National Defence in 2008–2009 were administrative complaints, all of which were delay-related (about either requests completed late or problems associated with time extensions).

The OIC and National Defence continue to disagree about the latter’s regular use of extensions under paragraph 9(1)(a) (76 percent of the extensions it reported in its 2008–2009 annual report). Also in 2008–2009, the OIC registered 138 complaints about National Defence’s use of time extensions and resolved 48 percent of them.

National Defence reported two factors related to records retrieval that contributed to delays and the need for extensions on occasion. First, bulk requests for similar records resulted in certain recipient sectors being overwhelmed, and contributed to legislative deadlines being missed. For instance, between May and August 2008, one sector received approximately 125 requests from a single requestor. Second, record holders involved in military operations were not always able to retrieve records in a timely manner, although National Defence reported that this was not a frequent problem.

National Defence reduced to four the number of days that its dedicated Information Support Team has to review files related to military operations. National Defence facilitated this by having its access to information office collate all the returned records and prepare a consolidated release package containing only records it deemed necessary for the team to review. This improvement is encouraging, since one of the OIC’s recommendations in its 2007–2008 report card was aimed at the additional delay caused by consultations with the Information Support Team.

This is certainly a step in the right direction, but the OIC still has fundamental concerns about the Information Support Team, since its review adds time to the release process.

National Defence has been at the forefront of providing informal ways for requesters to access previously released records. It continues to post on its website a list of selected topics on which records have been released. Requesters interested in these topics can request the records free of charge and without making a formal access request.

Access to information officials and senior managers at National Defence noted ongoing efforts to continue to reduce the backlog (it decreased 34 percent in 2008–2009), hire more staff to decrease workload, and train employees to promote efficiency. The OIC hopes that these efforts bear considerable fruit; however, National Defence, which has been part of the report card process since the beginning, was only able to make a small dent in 2008–2009 in its increased deemed refusal rate from 2007–2008. The OIC expects much more substantial progress next year.

Recommendations

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that National Defence carry through on its commitment to review the criteria for taking extensions, reduce the number of those extensions and implement process improvements to ensure that extended requests are completed on time.

Response

National Defence has conducted a review of the criteria for taking extensions. National Defence uses the criteria of the Access to Information Act, including “interference with operations” and “large volume of records,” along with Treasury Board Implementation Report No. 67 as guidance. National Defence and the OIC remain in disagreement on the interpretation of “large volume of records” as well as whether the workload of the access to information office can be considered as a factor in determining extensions pursuant to paragraph 9(1)(a) of the Act.

National Defence takes extensions as necessary based on the above criteria, and this will likely continue as long as National Defence has significant overseas operations.

In terms of completing extended requests on time, it should be noted that National Defence was late for only 51 extension requests that were completed in this reporting period out of a total of 1,097 extensions.

The access to information office’s tasking team is undertaking training to better hone their skills at estimating appropriate extensions as part of ongoing initiatives to improve performance.

National Defence will strive to improve conditions that result in unreasonable interference with the operations of the institution and that result in unnecessary searches through a large volume of records. Initiatives will include efforts to continue to reduce the backlog of access requests, increase staff levels to reduce workload and conduct training with the tasking team. This training will aim to improve the team’s ability to identify requests that do not comply with section 6 of the Act [which requires requests to be in writing and in sufficient detail] and appropriately assist requesters to re-scope requests so that they are manageable by the institution and accurately reflect the records sought by the requester.

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that National Defence begin immediately to apply paragraph 9(1)(a) of the Access to Information Act properly—by taking extensions under this provision only when it can justify both the interference with operations and the large volume of pages to review.

Response

National Defence does apply paragraph 9(1)(a) properly. Both requirements of the Act—unreasonable interference as well as large volume of records—are considered when applying paragraph 9(1)(a). A common understanding of what constitutes a “large volume” of records between the OIC and National Defence would be helpful in allowing National Defence to address the concern.

National Defence will continue to apply both requirements under the Act when taking extensions.

3. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that National Defence dedicate resources at the records-holding level to ensure that operations do not, as much as possible, compromise timely retrieval.

Response

National Defence continues to strive to retrieve records in a timely manner. However, operations (primarily in Afghanistan) do make the quick retrieval of some records difficult. However, this does not affect a large number of requests, and this situation will not continue indefinitely. The fact of ongoing operations should be considered a temporary mitigating factor in retrieval of records in theatre.

National Defence will strive to retrieve records in a timely manner.

4. The OIC recommends that National Defence further streamline its process so that review by the Information Support Team does not delay the release of records in any way.

Response

National Defence has streamlined the Information Support Team (IST) review process considerably since it first began. The turnaround time has improved considerably, and cooperation in balancing security and speed of review continues. The Information Support Team provides expert consultation in the area of operations security, the conditions of which are subject to change as the in-theatre situation develops. Considering the risks involved, including threat to life and limb as well as to security of intelligence that could be useful to the enemies of Canada, consultations with IST are both proper and prudent. Consultations, by their nature, are likely to delay the processing of requests to some degree. However, unless the delay is beyond legislated timelines or improper in some way, this should not be a concern for the OIC.

Cooperation on more efficient review between IST and the access to information office will continue, with the aim of improving turnaround time and impacting processing time as little as possible.

5. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that National Defence develop a clear plan to tackle the backlog of access requests.

Response

During this reporting period, National Defence reduced the backlog of requests by more than one third, dropping from 674 to 443, as noted by the OIC in this report card. Clearly, the National Defence plan to reduce the backlog is working.

National Defence will continue to implement its effective plan to reduce the backlog.

Deemed refusal rate, 2004 to 2008–2009

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

National Defence reported that it completed 51 of the requests it received in 2008–2009 after their due date. This graph shows how long these requests stayed open beyond that deadline.

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 National Defence reported to have taken in 2008–2009. National Defence supplied this information in the notices it sent to the OIC under subsection 9(2) of the Access to Information Act. National Defence fully complied with the requirement to submit these notices to the OIC in 2008–2009.

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 National Defence in the last three reporting periods: complaints about deemed refusals (access to information requests that National Defence delayed beyond the deadlines—30 days and extended—set out in the Access to Information Act) and complaints about National Defence’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 delay complaints hit a three-year high of 60 in 2007–2008 and then decreased to 42 in 2008–2009. Similarly, the number of resolved delay complaints was highest in 2007–2008 at 49 and then decreased to 13 the subsequent year.

Time extension complaints

Time extension complaints

The number of time extension complaints increased significantly over the three years (41; 105; 138). The number of resolved time extension complaints also rose (18; 51; 66).


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

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

  Resolved Not
substantiated
Discontinued Pending Total
2006–2007
Administrative 39 24 34 0 97
Refusals 16 10 8 10 44
Cabinet confidences 1 4 1 0 6
Total 56 38 43 10 147
2007–2008
Administrative 100 17 43 6 166
Refusals 20 24 9 28 81
Cabinet confidences 2 4 2 0 8
Total 122 45 54 34 255
2008–2009
Administrative 79 32 44 25 180
Refusals 2 13 2 26 43
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 3 3
Total 81 45 46 54 226

There was a significant increase in the number of administrative complaints over the three-year period (97; 166; 180). The number of resolved administrative complaints decreased from 2007–2008 to 2008–2009 (from 100 to 79). Each year, there were a number of discontinued (43; 54; 46) and pending complaints (10; 34; 54).