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Report Cards

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Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada

Mario Dion, the Information Commissioner ad hoc at the time of reporting, prepared this document at the request of the Information Commissioner, to ensure that a completely independent review of the Office of the Information Commissioner’s access to information operations was carried out. In preparing this assessment, the Information Commissioner ad hoc used the same methodology as was used for other organizations reviewed in this year’s process to ensure consistency in approach and comparability of results. 

The Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada (OIC) investigates complaints about federal institutions’ handling of access to information requests. The Commissioner also provides arm’s-length oversight of the federal government’s access to information practices and advocates for greater freedom of information in Canada.

2009–2010 report card at a glance

Rating: A (Outstanding)

  • The OIC’s deemed refusal rate was zero percent.
  • The average completion time for an access to information request was 32.97 days, since a long extension (180 days) was required to complete a file of more than 50,000 pages.
  • One of the three extensions taken was for more than 30 days, and the Information Commissioner ad hoc was notified, as is required.
  • Only one complaint against the OIC was filed with the Information Commissioner ad hoc in 2009–2010, and it was found to be not substantiated.
  • The access to information office is autonomous and provides strong leadership within the OIC to ensure access requests are dealt with efficiently in the spirit of the greatest possible access.

Quick facts

Number of requests carried over from 2008–2009
5
Number of new requests
28
Number of requests completed
31
Deemed refusal rate*
0%
Average time to complete a request (in days)
32.97
Number of incoming consultation requests
4
Number of pages reviewed for requests completed
55,589
Number of complaints registered with the Information Commissioner ad hoc**
1
Number of complaints the Information Commissioner ad hoc resolved***
0
Number of full-time equivalents responsible exclusively for access to information, as of March 31, 2010
4
 

* 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 Information Commissioner ad hoc used to calculate this rate.)

**The office of the Information Commissioner ad hoc was established in 2007 to receive and independently investigate any complaint made under section 30 of the Access to Information Act arising in response to access requests made in accordance with the Act to the Office of the Information Commissioner.

*** A complaint is resolved when the Information Commissioner ad hoc finds it has merit, and the institution resolves it to the Commissioner ad hoc’s satisfaction.

2009–2010 report card

The Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada’s access to information office had an excellent year in 2009–2010. The investments made in previous years to recruit a sufficient number of qualified officers and develop an efficient case management system, coupled with a corporate culture favourable to the access legislation, led to optimum performance in 2009–2010. The OIC received 28 new requests. Although this was a marked reduction from the 113 requests it received in 2008–2009 and the 93 in 2007–2008, one of the requests required 50,000 pages to be reviewed, which very significantly increased the workload in the first half of the year. In addition, the OIC carried over five requests from 2008–2009 and received four consultation requests.

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

This graph shows the sources of the OIC’s workload since it became subject to the Access to Information Act on April 1, 2007. The OIC received a large number of requests in the first two years it was subject to the Act, but kept its backlog at five or fewer requests throughout the period.

The OIC had a deemed refusal rate of zero percent for 2009–2010 and took only three extensions, of 14, 15 and 180 days—the latter to deal with that very large request. The OIC notified the Information Commissioner ad hoc of that extension in keeping with the requirement in the Access to Information Act to do so. There was only one complaint filed against the OIC during the year, and the Commissioner ad hoc found it to be not substantiated.

The OIC recognizes the value of information to Canadians and has adopted a number of measures to foster active support for the access function. All members of the executive category have in their performance agreement a standing commitment to actively contribute to the OIC’s successful administration of the access requests submitted to the OIC. The OIC has also adopted six pillars of access program delivery, including the full implementation of the duty to assist requesters, the application of discretionary exemptions only when the harm is identifiable and imminent, and the minimal use of extensions. The previous Commissioner ad hoc stated in his 2009–2010 annual report that the OIC sets an example for other federal institutions in effectively processing requests.

Upon becoming subject to access legislation, the OIC’s senior management communicated to employees the importance of responsiveness and compliance with the Act. Individual access training for each employee was delivered in advance of the April 1, 2007, start-up date. The OIC placed the access to information function in the Policy, Communications and Operations Branch to avoid conflicts of interest, since it was likely that most requests would relate to the investigations the OIC conducts. The access to information office is part of the Information Management Division but manages its own budget.

Exemptions and exclusions applied by the institution, 2009–2010

This graph shows how often the OIC applied the various exemptions and exclusions in the Act to the records it released in 2009–2010. The OIC used the mandatory exemption under subsection 19(1) (personal information) the most often. It is interesting to note, however, that the number of times the OIC used this exemption could have been higher had it not sought consent of individuals to disclose their information whenever possible under the exception contained in subsection 19(2). The other exemption that regularly applies to records the OIC produces falls under paragraph 16.1(1)(c). This requires the OIC to exempt from disclosure any record that contains information that was obtained or created in the course of an investigation, while the investigation is ongoing. The OIC applied this exemption 13 times.

In the lead-up to becoming subject to the Act, the OIC developed policies and procedures, and distributed them to all employees. To preserve the integrity and the independence of the process and ensure that all complaints are properly addressed, an Information Commissioner ad hoc was delegated the authority to deal with complaints made under the Act about the OIC’s handling of its own access requests. This office has always functioned with ad hoc commissioners without a statutory or regulatory basis formally referring to such a position. As noted by previous commissioners ad hoc, it is necessary to maintain this office to ensure that someone independent investigates the complaints against the OIC. The former Commissioner ad hoc also noted last year that it was time to consider a formal legal basis for this position.

The OIC received funding from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat to assist with start-up and the ongoing costs of its access function. Guidelines were also developed to assist the access office in interpreting the new provision found in paragraph 16.1(1)(c).

Access officials report that all areas of the institution cooperate fully in retrieving requested records within the very short standard deadline of five days set out in internal policy. Final disclosure is unfettered in terms of reviews and approvals. A status report on all active access to information requests is delivered to all senior managers weekly for their information.

The access to information office consists of four full-time employees who work autonomously, and a director, who is also responsible for two other groups within the OIC. It is interesting to note that the resources assigned to the access to information office provide support to other parts of the OIC when the workload declines. The office has the full confidence of the head of the institution. There is no two-step process by which the originating office reviews the final proposed disclosure package. The access coordinator is delegated to administer all exemptions under the Act, including exclusions under section 69 for Cabinet confidences.

Number and outcome of complaints received by the Information Commissioner ad hoc, 2007–2008 to 2009–2010

Resolved Not substantiated Discontinued Pending Total
2007–2008
Administrative 0 3 2 3 8
Refusals 1 1 0 0 2
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 1 4 2 3 10
2008–2009
Administrative 0 0 0 2 2
Refusals 3 7 0 1 11
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 3 7 0 3 13
2009–2010
Administrative 0 0 0 0 0
Refusals 0 1 0 0 1
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 0 1 0 0 1
 

This table sets out the number and outcome of the complaints the Information Commissioner ad hoc received about the OIC in each of the three reporting periods since the OIC became subject to the Act on April 1, 2007. Overall, the number of complaints against the OIC was low, including only one in 2009–2010, which was found to be not substantiated

Report card response

From its inception, the OIC Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) program has been of paramount importance to the OIC. As such, we have invested resources to ensure that the appropriate tools are made available to personnel, that we have the full complement of staff required, that full delegation is accorded to the ATIP coordinator so the decision-making process remains free of interference, and that our ATIP program is a model of exceptional timeliness.

We have also moved rapidly to ensure the necessary institutional support to the ATIP program. That is, prior to becoming subject to the Act, we created an Information Management Division to maximize synergies between the ATIP Secretariat, Records Management and Information Technology. This partnership has been a successful one and has resulted in enhanced adaptation of technology, sound records management, and improved access to information—all of which constitute the backbone of the effective delivery of our ATIP program.

During the year 2010–2011, which was not covered by the report cards, we have further embraced transparency at the OIC, through various initiatives to support open government and open data. For example, the OIC website now has a summary list of all completed access requests, and copies can be requested electronically. We are also posting on our website real-time statistics on our investigations in both a permanent and a re-usable format in keeping with open data. We will also be consulting with our stakeholders and the general public to determine which of our corporate documents are of interest, in order to proactively provide access to that information.

We remain committed to fulfilling our obligations under the Act. We will continue to operate in the most transparent way possible and to ensure that our ATIP program meets the highest standards of service delivery to Canadians.

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