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This year’s special report takes timeliness as its chief focus. It looks at how well 24 federal institutions—representing 88 percent of all access requests— handled those requests in 2008–2009 and examines the factors that affect the capacity of the system as a whole to deliver timely service to Canadians.
The results of the previous report cards process had showed that timeliness is no longer the norm for federal institutions, nor an ideal, in answering access to information requests. In light of this, the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) set as the goal for its Three-Year Plan on Report Cards and Systemic Issues to probe the root causes of this problem in order to devise appropriate solutions.
This year’s exercise—unprecedented in scope—is meant to offer a fact-based assessment of the situation with a view to improving timeliness. In the absence of legislated reform, it is imperative to gather reliable and detailed information to accurately assess institutions’ compliance with the Act and to develop better mechanisms for holding institutions accountable before the Canadian public.
This is particularly timely, since the Minister of Justice indicated to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in October 2009 that the government would look at administrative alternatives to remedy the shortcomings of the Act. We strongly recommend that the government make it a priority to address the rampant problem of delays, which can be significantly reduced through administrative measures with the concerted will of all key players.
of the report provides a fact-based assessment of the extent and immediate causes of delay across the system. Chapter 2 takes stock of the progress achieved in implementing last year’s recommendations to deal with various issues that have a significant impact on timeliness across government. This chapter also reports on another systemic issue impeding access, which surfaced during this year’s exercise. Chapter 3 describes actions that the OIC will undertake within its mandate to address delay issues. Chapter 4 presents the report cards of the 24 institutions assessed this year.
The information in this report comes from a number of sources, including institutions’ responses to our questionnaire, which asked for both statistics and narrative answers to specific questions, as well as from interviews with key access to information officials following up on their answers to the questionnaire. We supplemented that information with printouts from institutions’ case management systems, institutions’ annual reports on access to information, and our own files. Our conclusions stem from our analysis of all the information these sources brought to light.
The Access to Information Act gives Canadian citizens, residents and companies the right to request and receive information that federal institutions have, including documents, pictures, letters, emails and memos. There are some limitations, however: for example, institutions may withhold all or portions of records that contain personal information, Cabinet confidences or information that, if released, could harm Canada’s security.
The Office of the Information Commissioner helps ensure that federal institutions respect the Act and provide timely access to information, to keep the federal government accountable to Canadians.