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Report Cards


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Institutions assessed in 2008–2009

Canadian Food Inspection Agency

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) provides inspection services and regulatory oversight for food production, and plant and animal health products, and delivers consumer protection programs relating to the food system in Canada. CFIA enforces Health Canada policies and standards governing the safety and nutritional quality of all food sold in Canada and verifies industry compliance with federal acts and regulations.

2008–2009 report card at a glance

whole star whole star empty star empty star empty star
D

  • Deemed refusal rate was 35.8 percent.
  • Average completion time was 50 days.
  • CFIA submitted the required notices of extensions longer than 30 days to the Office of the Information Commissioner 61 percent of the time.
  • A series of crises, such as incidents of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and listeriosis, overwhelmed CFIA’s access program, without an equivalent increase in resources to respond efficiently. There had been no time extension complaints against CFIA in the two years preceding these crises.
  • The backlog grew: CFIA carried 201 requests over into 2009–2010 (compared to 56 files from 2007–2008).
  • The delegation of authority was diffuse. All records on topics of great public interest had to be approved by the president prior to release.
  • Senior executives have subsequently taken a number of steps to improve compliance:
    • conducted internal and external reviews of access to information operations;
    • allocated $500,000 to consultants to reduce the backlog;
    • developed a multi-year plan to address problems raised in the external review report;
    • revised the delegation order to streamline the approval process;
    • upgraded software; and
    • hired two new permanent staff members.

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

Number of requests carried over from 2007–2008
56
Number of new requests
472
Number of requests completed
327
Deemed refusal rate
35.8%*
Average time to complete a request (in days)
50
Number of consultation requests
74
Number of complaints registered with the Office of the Information Commissioner
12
Number of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner resolved
3**
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information office, as of March 31, 2009
6
 

* 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.


2008–2009 report card

Interest in the information holdings of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has increased in recent years, which has meant a significant and steady increase in the volume, size and complexity of requests. This, combined with high- profile incidents of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and listeriosis, led CFIA to score an alarming 35.8 percent deemed refusal rate for 2008–2009, when CFIA was subject to its first report card. The backlog of requests also grew rapidly, with 201 requests carried over into 2009–2010. These numbers illustrate that CFIA was unable to meet its obligations under the Access to Information Act. The high deemed refusal rate resulted in CFIA receiving the 2008 Code of Silence award from the Canadian Association of Journalists.

CFIA’s rate of compliance in the last fiscal year results from a number of factors. All requests of great interest to the public went to the president’s office for final approval. While access staff did not report any delays resulting from this approval process, the fact that the president, the minister’s office and the public affairs division received copies of each of the proposed release packages created an administrative burden that detracted access staff from processing requests. Further, the delegated authority shared between the president, the executive vice-president, vice-presidents and associate vice presidents of operational areas further diminished the access coordinator’s control over the timely advancement of requests.

CFIA extended 175 of the 472 new requests it received in 2008–2009. More than three quarters (78 percent) of the extensions it took were for third-party consultations. CFIA was only able to complete one third of its extended requests within the longer time frame.

In terms of human resources, CFIA needs more capacity in order to manage its growing volume of requests. The institution brought in consultants to manage the backlog and regular workloads, but this is not a sustainable strategy, both fiscally and in terms of long-term compliance. In an attempt to combat staff turnover rates, the CFIA has introduced a career development program for its current staff, and has coordinated staffing competitions for other institutions to establish a recruitment pool of qualified personnel.

CFIA also needs to develop a more focused approach to tasking. Already, it has minimized the number of contact points within branches to help ensure greater oversight and coordination in program areas. It is also implementing new redaction software that will better track documents to ensure consistency and help streamline processing.

Information management in general contributed to difficulty in retrieving records, due in part to the remote inspection operations across the country and limited connectivity.

Senior management launched many initiatives to improve compliance in 2009–2010, such as undertaking a comprehensive study of the institution’s access operations. This was validated through an external expert review (completed in July 2009). CFIA also revised the delegation order to give full authority to the access to information coordinator to approve the release of records, and approved the staffing of additional permanent positions.

The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) anticipates a far more transparent approach to access to information as a result of the new commitment of resources, and commends the demonstrated leadership of CFIA to improve its compliance.

Recommendations

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency allocate sufficient resources on a permanent basis to stabilize access to information operations and ensure a full complement of access staff.

Response

A business case was first developed by CFIA’s access to information office and subsequently considered by an independent expert in the context of an external review. This review, completed in July 2009, confirmed program improvements along with resource requirements. A total of $500,000 was allocated toward hiring consultants to address the backlog of requests. Six consultants were hired in 2009–2010 and there is a process under way to engage more consultants to help reduce the backlog.

CFIA is currently finalizing its 2010–2011 budget allocations for all programs and areas. This includes a recommendation to provide adequate and stable resources for the access to information office in 2010–2011 and future years.

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency formulate and implement a clear, comprehensive and multi-year plan to improve the delivery of access to information services, eliminate the backlog and improve compliance, along the lines of the expert report commissioned in 2009.

Response

A comprehensive, multi-year plan was developed in conjunction with the access to information business case and was updated to reflect the recommendations made in the external expert’s report completed in 2009. The multi-year action plan outlines the steps to be taken and resources needed in order to improve CFIA’s compliance with the Act and to work toward eliminating the backlog of requests.

CFIA will strive to implement the multi-year action plan developed to improve its overall compliance with the Access to Information Act, in line with agency priorities and available resources.

3. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency strive to reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

Response

CFIA is committed to reducing its deemed refusal rate and has already taken steps such as hiring consultants and revising the delegation of authority.

As noted, CFIA is implementing an action plan, designed to build a solid foundation for the access to information office, to ensure the agency’s ability to minimize its deemed refusal rate.

Further to the report card recommendations, the access to information office is currently revising its internal procedures on extensions in order to ensure all extensions taken are more precise and sufficient in length.

4. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency comply with the Act and notify the Office of the Information Commissioner of all the extensions it takes for more than 30 days.

Response

It is the established practice of CFIA access to information officials to send all extension letters (more than 30 days) to the OIC. In order to help better ensure the delivery and receipt of notices, the agency will begin sending the notices to the OIC by fax. The OIC may also wish to consider establishing a dedicated email account for such notices. Additionally, to enhance our ability to track these notices, we will create a new field in our tracking database.

The CFIA is pursuing discussions with the OIC to explore ways of improved tracking of the extension notification process.

The agency will start sending notifications by fax or email to help confirm receipt of notices by the OIC. The access to information office will also track the extension notices in our case management database to better verify compliance with section 9(2) of the Act.

 

How long requests completed late were overdue, 2008–2009

CFIA reported that it completed 77 of the requests it received in 2008–2009 after their due date. This graph shows how long these requests stayed open beyond that deadline.

How long requests completed late were overdue, 2008–2009

Number and length of time extensions reported in 2008–2009

This graph shows the number and length of the time extensions CFIA reported to have taken in 2008–2009. CFIA supplied this information in the notices it sent to the OIC under subsection 9(2) of the Access to Information Act. CFIA submitted the notices 61 percent of the time in 2008–2009; the OIC expects this figure to be 100 percent in 2009–2010.

Number and length of time extensions reported in 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 CFIA in the last three reporting periods: complaints about deemed refusals (access to information requests that CFIA delayed beyond the deadlines—30 days and extended—set out in the Access to Information Act) and complaints about CFIA’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

In each of the last three years, the OIC resolved 50 percent or more of the deemed refusal complaints registered against CFIA (50 percent; 100 percent; 50 percent).

Time extension complaints

Time extension complaints

In 2008–2009, the OIC found three out of the four complaints about time extensions to be not substantiated.


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

This table sets out the number and outcome of complaints the OIC registered against CFIA 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 1 1 1 0 3
Refusals 0 1 0 0 1
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 1 2 1 0 4
2007–2008
Administrative 3 0 0 0 3
Refusals 1 0 0 6 7
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 4 0 0 6 10
2008–2009
Administrative 3 3 3 1 10
Refusals 0 0 0 2 2
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 3 3 3 3 12

The number of administrative complaints (including deemed refusal and time extension complaints) against CFIA increased significantly from 2007–2008 to 2008–2009 (from 3 to 10). However, CFIA’s record on resolved refusal complaints was good (only one in three years), suggesting that the institution applies exemptions under the Act well.

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