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Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) supplies nuclear technology and services to utilities, and designs and builds CANDU reactors. AECL also provides research and development support and construction management services, designs and engineers specialized technology, manages nuclear waste and decommissions reactors.

2009–2010 report card at a glance

Rating: B+ (Above average)

  • AECL completed all of its requests by their due date, for a deemed refusal rate of zero percent.
  • The average request completion time was 33.08 days.
  • AECL benefited in 2009–2010 from having eliminated the previous year the backlog of requests that had been growing since 2007, when the corporation first became subject to the Access to Information Act.
  • AECL proactively released information, resulting in fewer formal access requests.
  • AECL held training sessions for some third-party stakeholders to explain the Act, which facilitated outgoing consultations.
  • AECL had three complaints registered against it with the Office of the Information Commissioner, all of which are pending.
  • There were no administrative complaints against AECL in the last two years, compared to 22 in 2007–2008. This significantly reduced AECL’s access to information workload, enabling the corporation to provide better service to requesters.
  • AECL could better ensure it receives timely responses to its outgoing consultations by contacting the institution being consulted at the outset of the consultation period rather than close to the deadline.
  • AECL did not notify the Office of the Information Commissioner of any of the 13 extensions it took that were for more than 30 days.

Quick facts

Number of requests carried over from 2008–2009
4
Number of new requests
108
Number of requests completed
111
Deemed refusal rate*
0%
Average time to complete a request (in days)
33.08
Number of incoming consultation requests
35
Number of pages reviewed for requests completed
12,521
Number of complaints registered with the Office of the Information Commissioner
3
Number of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner resolved**
0
Number of full-time equivalents responsible exclusively for access to information, as of March 31, 2010
1.5
 

*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 C 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.

2009–2010 report card 

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) had a successful year in access to information in 2009–2010. Having spent the previous year clearing the backlog that had built up in 2007–2008 and carrying over only four requests into 2009–2010, AECL was in a good position to take on 108 new requests. Access staff completed all but one of the total caseload of 112 requests during the year, and completed each request by its due date (including 16 extensions), for a deemed refusal rate of zero percent. The average request completion time was 33.08 days. AECL had 1.5 full-time employees working exclusively on access to information in 2009–2010, which the corporation deemed adequate for managing the workload.

AECL’s access to information staff encountered difficulties in 2007–2008, the first year the institution was subject to the Access to Information Act. Senior executives were concerned about releasing records pertaining to Canada’s nuclear energy administration into an unknown public environment. Scientists were equally concerned about protecting the integrity of their research. Compounding the problem, requests were delayed in the shipping/receiving area because there was no formal access to information office and no one knew where else to send them. This lack of organization created a general uneasiness that, in turn, led AECL management to route all responses through the corporation’s communications unit in Toronto.

The situation changed for the better when AECL hired an experienced access coordinator who was familiar with AECL. AECL employees were trained in the legal and administrative implications of the Act, which went a long way to reducing the collective level of concern, particularly among senior executives and members of the board of directors. The access to information office was eventually moved from External Relations and Communications to the office of the General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, which AECL reports has helped diminish excessive scrutiny of files.

Access to information workload, 2007–2008 to 2009–2010

This graph shows the sources of AECL’s workload since it became subject to the Access to Information Act on September 1, 2007. AECL carried over a large backlog into its second year of operation, but was subsequently able to bring it down to a manageable level. This allowed AECL to handle its new request caseload in 2009–2010, which had increased 28 percent from the previous year.

With a gradually better understanding of the law, an open channel of communication between the access coordinator and the executive cadre, a smaller volume of new requests in 2008–2009, which allowed access staff to get ahead of the backlog, an experienced coordinator and growing confidence in the process on the part of senior management, the institution evolved to achieve above average performance in 2009–2010. The improvement in access operations is also shown in the number and type of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) received about AECL over the last three years: the OIC received only three exclusion complaints in 2009–2010 (all pending), compared to 22 administrative complaints in 2007–2008 (all of which were resolved). There was one mark against AECL, however, and that is that it did not notify the OIC of any of the extensions it took in 2009–2010 that were for longer than 30 days, as required by the Act.

Exemptions and exclusions applied by the institution, 2009–2010

This graph shows how often AECL applied the various exemptions and exclusions in the Act to the records it released in 2009–2010. AECL used the exemptions under section 21 (advice) and section 19 (personal information) the most often. Its application of exclusions was limited, with the exception of its own exclusion (section 68.2), which it used 10 times during the year. Section 68.2 excludes from release all records AECL holds, with two exceptions: information about its general administration and about the operation of nuclear facilities regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

AECL has its own exclusion under the Act. Section 68.2 excludes from release all records AECL holds, with two exceptions: information about its general administration and about the operation of nuclear facilities regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. In light of this exclusion, AECL was initially reluctant to allow the OIC to review any excluded records that were the subject of a complaint. The OIC worked with the access to information coordinator during 2009–2010 to correct the misperception that AECL was not required to provide the OIC with all the records it needs to investigate complaints.

A minor concern is AECL’s approach to outgoing consultations. Currently, access officials do not negotiate a timeline with the institution being consulted at the start of the consultation period. Rather, they only get in touch when the deadline is near, which may result in unnecessary delays. Natural Resources Canada also responds to requests related to the nuclear energy sector, such as those pertaining to medical isotopes, and it was the source of the majority of the 35 consultation requests that AECL received in 2009–2010.

AECL has put a number of measures in place that have led to the efficient processing of requests. For example, the offices that hold the records submit their responsive documents to the access office with no initial recommendations, but receive a copy of the proposed disclosure package, which they accept, according to AECL, without question in an estimated 95 percent of cases. There are also five days built into the process for any senior management review of potentially sensitive files, after which the coordinator releases the information. The coordinator has fully delegated authority for access to information decisions, with two exceptions: the President and CEO retained the authority to release personal information that is publicly available (under paragraph 19(2)(b) of the Act), and the President and CEO may also decide to release third-party information, in areas such as public health and safety, and the protection of the environment, that would otherwise be exempt under subsection 20(6).

AECL has made outreach efforts in communities where it has a presence. This best practice has resulted in access officials being able to save both time and resources. For example, AECL met with community leaders and residents of Port Hope, Ontario, who wanted more information about the remediation of soil contaminated with low-level radiation. In response, AECL made both institutional and personal information accessible informally, promoting transparency, assisting citizens and also averting numerous formal access and privacy requests. AECL also delivered training to some of its third-party stakeholders to apprise them of the implications of the Act, which facilitated consultations.

The access to information and privacy office has seen its overall workload increase due to an influx of privacy requests from its own employees, specifically with regard to AECL’s historical radiation testing. Employees are seeking their personal dosemetry records, which indicate radiation absorption levels. These records are also subject to provincial health records legislation, which has meant that AECL staff has had to undertake negotiations on behalf of employees to get them released.

Continued diligent stewardship of AECL’s access to information office will ensure its future success. Its current approach to its obligations has earned AECL an above average performance rating of B+ for 2009–2010.

Number and outcome of complaints received by the OIC, 2007–2008 to 2009–2010
Resolved Not substantiated Discontinued Pending Total
2007–2008
Administrative 22 0 0 0 22
Refusals 2 2 0 0 4
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 24 2 0 0 26
2008–2009
Administrative 0 0 0 0 0
Refusals 0 1 0 2 3
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 0 1 0 2 3
2009–2010
Administrative 0 0 0 0 0
Refusals 0 0 0 3 3
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 0 0 0 3 3

This table sets out the number and outcome of the complaints the OIC registered against AECL in each of the three reporting periods since AECL became subject to the Act on September 1, 2007. Resolved complaints are those that the OIC finds to have merit and that the institution resolves to the Commissioner’s satisfaction. In 2009–2010, the OIC received three refusal complaints against AECL, all of which are still under investigation. Since there were also only three complaints in 2008–2009, it may be that the volume has stabilized. In any event, the number of complaints in these two years is a noteworthy improvement from 2007–2008, when the OIC received 26 complaints about AECL. Also noteworthy is that AECL was not the subject of any administrative complaints in 2008–2009 and 2009–2010, after receiving 22 in 2007–2008. This reduction in complaints likely reflects AECL’s growing familiarity with the Act, and has significantly reduced AECL’s workload, enabling it to provide better service to requesters.

Recommendations

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Atomic Energy of Canada Limited comply with the Act and notify the Office of the Information Commissioner of the extensions it takes for more than 30 days.

Response

The access to information office will ensure that it provides a copy of any extension notices of more than 30 days to the Office of the Information Commissioner.

2. In order to more accurately estimate an appropriate turnaround time for consultations and avoid delays, the Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited access to information office implement a procedure to contact, at the earliest opportunity, institutions that it will be consulting to negotiate a response date.

Response

In order to avoid any delays, the access to information office will put into procedure that it will contact any institution within five business days after sending a consultation notice in regards to release.

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