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Report Cards

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Executive Summary

This special report is the result of work during the second year of the Office of the Information Commissioner’s (OIC) Three-Year Plan for Report Cards. This plan set a course for identifying the root causes of delays in responding to access to information requests and determining solutions for reversing the problem.

This year’s report focuses on eight institutions that became subject to the Access to Information Act in 2007 as a result of the Federal Accountability Act. These institutions are Crown corporations and Agents of Parliament, each of which was selected because the OIC has received five or more complaints about them during the time they have been covered by the Act. Among these institutions is the OIC, whose report card was prepared by the Information Commissioner ad hoc.

The context for the report cards on these institutions is the scheme of not only expanded coverage but also increased exemptions and exclusions the Federal Accountability Act ushered in. This has resulted in limited benefits for transparency, despite the intentions of the government when it introduced these changes. For example, while the new institutions that were added accounted for about 2 percent of all the access requests the federal government received in 2009–2010, they were the subject of nearly 12 percent of the complaints the OIC received that year. In addition, these new institutions are releasing proportionally less information than are their federal counterparts, likely because of the new exemptions and exclusions that allow or mandate them to refuse to release information.

As part of the report card process, the OIC also asked the 13 worst performing institutions for 2008–2009 to provide a progress report on their work to respond to the OIC’s recommendations. There are numerous positive developments, with institutions finding new resources to support the access function, improving their delegation of authority orders and implementing better procedures. This bodes well for the results of the re-assessment the OIC will do next year of these institutions and the 11 others surveyed for 2008–2009.

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat also reports progress on responding to the OIC’s recommendations from the past two years in many areas. Of particular note are the initiatives that will be launched in 2011–2010 to collect more statistical information about access to information workload from all institutions. Finally, the OIC provides an update on its work to live up to the commitments it made in last year’s special report.

As for the 2009–2010 report cards, they tell a tale of some of the best and worst performers the OIC has seen since it began preparing these assessments in 1999. Six of the eight institutions performed better than average, with four receiving an A grade and four having a deemed refusal rate of zero percent— meaning that they met the legislated deadline for all the requests they completed in 2009–2010. The story is not perfect, however. Canada Post had one of the worst deemed refusal rates in the history of the report cards, and together it and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)—this year’s other poor performer—were the subject of 10 percent of the complaints the OIC received in 2009–2010. The OIC issued a number of recommendations for both Canada Post and the CBC in an effort to help them improve their performance in future years and release information to requesters more quickly.

For the institutions with records of good performance, it is clear that optimal compliance with the Access to Information Act is possible. It starts with the right attitude toward openness, which is intrinsically linked to leadership at the highest institutional level, the right tools and sufficient resources, and continues with a sound approach to responding to access to information requests.

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