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Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is Canada’s national public broadcaster. It produces, procures and distributes Canadian programming in English, French and eight Aboriginal languages.

2009–2010 report card at a glance

Rating: F (Unsatisfactory)

  • The CBC’s deemed refusal rate was 57.7 percent.
  • The CBC took an average of 158 days to complete a request. It completed only 39 percent of new requests within 30 days.
  • The Office of the Information Commissioner received 134 complaints against the CBC, the most among the institutions reviewed this year.
  • The CBC notified the Office of the Information Commissioner in the one case in which it took an extension of more than 30 days.
  • The CBC has had difficultly recruiting experienced access to information employees.
  • The CBC had a significant backlog of requests at the beginning of 2009–2010, which it had reduced by 60 percent by the end of the year.
  • The number of administrative complaints against the CBC has dropped significantly over the three years it has been subject to the Access to Information Act: from 456 in 2007–2008 to 29 in 2009–2010.

Quick facts

Number of requests carried over from 2008–2009
108
Number of new requests
247
Number of requests completed
315
Deemed refusal rate*
57.7%
Average time to complete a request (in days)
158
Number of incoming consultation requests
38
Number of pages reviewed for requests completed
44,054
Number of complaints registered with the Office of the Information Commissioner
134
Number of complaints on hold pending litigation, as of March 31, 2010**
108
Number of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner resolved***
36
Number of full-time equivalents responsible for both access to information and privacy, as of March 31, 2010
7.63
 

* 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.)

** Includes complaints from 2007–2008, 2008–2009 and 2009–2010

*** 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

Despite some signs of improvements in performance over previous years, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) still did not live up to its access to information obligations in 2009–2010. It took an average of 158 days—more than five times the legislated 30 days—to complete a request and had a deemed refusal rate of 57.7 percent. It completed only 39 percent of requests within 30 days. It also reported that it completed 99 requests after the due date. Of these, 22 percent were late by more than 90 days.

How long requests completed late were overdue, 2009–2010

The large backlog of 108 requests the CBC faced at the beginning of 2009–2010 increased its access to information workload by nearly half. In all, the CBC processed more than 44,000 pages over the year and responded to 38 consultation requests from other federal institutions. The institution’s caseload was further compounded by the 134 complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) received against the CBC, of which 105 were about its refusal to release records.

The CBC extended only one request for more than 30 days and did notify the OIC, as it is required to do under the Act. Having taken a limited number of extensions overall and only consulting other federal institutions occasionally, the prolonged turnaround time for requests at the CBC points to an initial unfamiliarity with these provisions of the Act, internal delays in the retrieval, review and approval processes as well as the age of the requests in its backlog.

The CBC reported that information management continues to challenge the access function, with office locations spread out across the country and no central system to facilitate records retrieval. Despite the fact that the network of access to information liaisons has been in place since the CBC became subject to the Act on September 1, 2007, and has made progress, CBC access officials said the access function is still new to the organization, and there continues to be a learning curve for all involved. The CBC access coordinator provided training sessions to senior management and the network of liaison officers to promote awareness and impart an understanding of the legislative obligations under the Act. However, there was little training for other working levels across the CBC.

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

This graph shows the sources of the CBC’s workload since it became subject to the Access to Information Act on September 1, 2007. The backlog of requests the CBC carried over into 2008–2009 outnumbered the new requests it received that year and had a significant impact on its workload. The situation improved in 2009–2010, with the number carried over dropping considerably.

The CBC estimated in the lead-up to becoming subject to the Act that it would receive 40 requests per month, and prepared to respond to this volume of requests. It staffed its access office with an experienced manager, two experienced analysts and one part-time support staff. As it happened, the CBC received 335 requests in its first month alone. Amid its struggle to process these requests, the CBC issued a news release a few months later to describe the steps it was taking to try to meet its obligations. The situation was compounded when waiting requesters complained to the OIC about the delays. The CBC engaged additional employees to process requests but others left, given the difficult circumstances.

Also in these early months, the CBC commissioned a report from an access to information expert that outlined the key challenges ahead. The expert noted that the range and nature of requests received were not unique to CBC and could be expected to continue. As it turned out, however, the number decreased: after receiving 547 requests in seven months in 2007–2008, the CBC received fewer than half as many (221) in 2008–2009 and only slightly more (247) in 2009–2010, indicating that the volume of requests may have stabilized.

In its 2009–2010 Freedom of Information Audit, the Canadian Newspaper Association found the CBC to be one of the least-open federal institutions. Access officials report that staff at all levels put a priority on programming but, overall, the institution is growing increasingly respectful and supportive of the legislation.

Exemptions and exclusions applied by the institution, 2009–2010

This graph shows how often the CBC applied the various exemptions and exclusions in the Act to the records it released in 2009–2010. The CBC used the exemptions under section 18 (economic interest) and section 21 (advice) most often and applied its section 68.1 exclusion 94 times. This exclusion pertains to records concerning the CBC’s journalistic, creative or programming activities.

The access coordinator (whose full title is Compliance Officer, Associate Corporate Secretary and Access to Information and Privacy Coordinator) and director share fully delegated authority for access to information decisions, with the important exception that only the coordinator may apply the CBC-specific exclusion that protects information of a programming, creative or journalistic nature (section 68.1). The CBC delegated identical authority to the two positions to ensure that the function is properly covered at all times, but it remains unclear to the OIC how this works in daily operations.

In terms of approvals, the access to information office forwards the relevant part of each proposed disclosure package to the appropriate vice-president—none of whom have delegated authority—for review before it is released. The CBC reported that the two-day turnaround for this step receives significant respect but also acknowledged that there are many competing pressures for attention at the executive level. There is a procedure by which the access to information director follows up when the two-day period expires, but with no clear indication that the files are released even when the vice-president does not meet this deadline, the OIC questions whether the consultation is for review or approval.

The access office staff has grown to include more than seven full-time equivalents, including a director with access experience in other government institutions. CBC notes that it is difficult to recruit experienced access to information employees. Access officials are currently developing a policy and procedures manual as well as a training program so that all employees can better understand their obligations.

Although the OIC is concerned with the CBC’s overall performance for 2009–2010, there are indications that the institution is trying to improve its operations to increase its compliance with the Act. The CBC reduced its backlog of access requests by 60 percent in 2009–2010. In addition, the average completion time for new requests in 2010 to date is 51 days, and delay complaints have diminished significantly recently.

Nonetheless, the OIC has assessed the CBC as having an F rating for 2009–2010, due to the very high deemed refusal rate and long average completion time.

Number and outcome of complaints received by the OIC, 2007–2008 to 2009–2010
  Resolved Not substantiated Discontinued Pending Total
2007–2008
Administrative 411 28 7 10 456
Refusals 0 21 1 56 78
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 411 49 8 66 534
2008–2009
Administrative 32 6 2 0 40
Refusals 19 4 5 153 181
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 51 10 7 153 221
2009–2010
Administrative 3 1 0 25 29
Refusals 33 0 3 69 105
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 36 1 3 94 134
 

This table sets out the number and outcome of the complaints the OIC registered against the CBC in each of the three reporting periods since the CBC 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. Of all the institutions that became subject to the Act in 2007, the CBC has the highest aggregate number of complaints, at 889. It also had the highest number of complaints for 2009–2010 (134). More than three quarters (78 percent) of complaints in 2009–2010 were for refusal to disclose records. Most of the refusal complaints are still under investigation, but 91.6 percent of those that were completed were resolved. Three were discontinued. The number of administrative complaints against the CBC has significantly dropped over the last three years: from 456 in 2007–2008 to 29 in 2009–2010. This reduction in complaints has significantly reduced the CBC’s access to information workload. During 2009–2010, the OIC received 33 complaints on the CBC’s use of the section 68.1 exclusion, and this number has increased steadily since then. At the time of this writing, 181 such complaints were on hold due to legal proceedings. In Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) v. the Information Commissioner of Canada, the CBC maintained that, since the records were excluded under the Act, the Commissioner did not have a right to examine them during the investigation of a complaint. The Federal Court did not agree, ruling that the Commissioner has the authority to order the CBC to produce records if it would not do so willingly. The Federal Court decision is currently under appeal.

Recommendations

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the President of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation demonstrate leadership in establishing access to information as an institutional priority without exception. Access to information is a mandatory program and its associated legislated duties within a federal institution must be paramount.

Response

The President of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has and continues to demonstrate leadership in establishing access to information as an institutional priority. The Corporation’s proactive electronic posting is a recent example of this.

The President’s strong personal commitment to ensuring that transparency and accountability remain institutional priorities will be cascaded on an ongoing basis to all levels of the Corporation through its vice-presidents and their teams of senior managers. To re-emphasize the importance attached to the Access to Information Act (ATIA) by the Corporation, the President will continue to post electronic bulletins to employees during the new fiscal year explaining access to information developments and underlining the importance of the Act and his expectation that it will be complied with.

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation formulate and implement a clear, comprehensive and multi-year plan to improve the delivery of access to information services and improve compliance, including clarification of the retrieval, review and approval processes.

Response

In the slightly more than three years since becoming subject to the ATIA, the Corporation has quantifiably improved its delivery of access to information services and its compliance with the Act. The reduction in delay complaints made against the Corporation from 388 in 2007–2008, to 8 in 2009–2010 and to 0 as of December 8, 2010, reflects this. To ensure this progress continues, we have already implemented detailed quarterly reporting to the Chair of our Board of Directors, the President, and all vice-presidents and equivalents, on the status of all requests in their areas of responsibility, and we have also established monthly access to information newsletters to disseminate best practices across the organization.

A multi-year plan is being developed to ensure that internal ATIA processes for retrieval, review and approval are streamlined and as efficient as possible; that related process manuals used by access to information office staff and the Corporation’s network of access to information liaison officers remain current; that timely dissemination of best practices continues to occur; and that ATIA awareness, education and training products are systematically developed, maintained and delivered.

3. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation initiate training to promote access to information awareness across the entire institution.

Response

As confirmed in this report, training was provided to senior management and our network of access to information liaison officers throughout the Corporation in the period leading up to September 1, 2007, when we became subject to the ATIA. This year the access to information office began, and will continue, producing and disseminating a monthly newsletter to our internal network of access to information liaison officers, with the request that they distribute it further in their respective business areas.

As part of the multi-year plan referred to above, broad ATIA awareness and training needs will be assessed and a plan to respond to them will be developed by the end of the first quarter of the coming fiscal year. In the meantime, the access to information office will continue to respond to requests for awareness and training sessions.

4. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

Response

We agree with the aim of this recommendation. This said, mistakes will inevitably occur that will cause some files to be answered late in spite of all best measures and practices. A deemed refusal rate of less than 5 percent appears to be a realistic target.

Reports detailing on-time and not on-time performance will continue to be submitted to the access to information coordinator on a weekly basis. Bi-weekly one-on-one meetings between the director and individual team leaders/analysts to review active requests and the timeliness of their processing will continue.

Our most recent newsletter to our internal network of access to information liaison officers dealt with extensions under the ATIA and explained when, why and how such extensions are to be asked for through the access to information office.

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