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VIA Rail Canada Inc.

VIA Rail Canada Inc. operates the nation’s passenger rail services on behalf of the Government of Canada, providing intercity passenger services, and maintaining regional and essential remote passenger rail transportation. VIA works to provide a safe and efficient rail passenger service in Canada.

2009–2010 report card at a glance

Rating: B (Above average)

  • VIA’s deemed refusal rate was 10.7 percent, stemming from three requests it completed after their due date.
  • The average completion time for a request was 26.1 days.
  • VIA has committed to increasing the number of access to information awareness training sessions it holds for employees.
  • VIA did not take any extensions of more than 30 days, and therefore had no obligation to notify the Office of the Information Commissioner.
  • Turnover in key positions has been a challenge for VIA’s access to information office.
  • VIA plans to launch a standardized information management system.
  • VIA has made comprehensive information about the access to information process available to the public on its website.

Quick facts

Number of requests carried over from 2008–2009
0
Number of new requests
28
Number of requests completed
28
Deemed refusal rate*
10.7%
Average time to complete a request (in days)
26.1
Number of incoming consultation requests
0
Number of pages reviewed for requests completed
1,815
Number of complaints registered with the Office of the Information Commissioner
2
Number of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner resolved**
0
Number of full-time equivalents responsible for both access to information and privacy, 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

VIA Rail Canada Inc. had to contend with significant budget cuts in 2009–2010, which, in combination with a decreasing number of access requests, forced it to restructure its access to information operations. The coordinator role, which was initially a full-time position, was absorbed into the legal division, such that the General Counsel and Secretary is now the third coordinator VIA has had since it became subject to the Act on September 1, 2007. VIA had an excellent average request completion rate of 26.1 days for the year. However, it did complete three requests past their due date, which equals a deemed refusal rate of 10.7 percent. VIA responded to these three late requests within 30 days of their due date.

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

This graph shows the sources of VIA’s workload since it became subject to the Access to Information Act on September 1, 2007. In 2008–2009, VIA’s first full year under the Act, it received a large number of new requests. In 2009–2010, VIA’s access to information workload dropped by more than half.

When it became subject to the Act, VIA engaged a consultant to train management and those employees directly involved in or affected by access to information requests. These efforts have been sporadic over the three years, with senior members of the access office only receiving training in 2010–2011. Consequently, although they have been able to efficiently respond to the majority of access to information requests, they did not know about some standard procedures, such as preparing partial releases of records while waiting for the results of a consultation. Access officials report that they plan to impose more thorough and company-wide training by early 2011.

VIA developed a very comprehensive manual on access to information policies and procedures, which also includes information about training, forms, and copies of the delegation order and the Access to Information Act. The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) considers this thorough guide, in particular the section providing a step-by-step process for completing a request, a best practice. VIA is also to be commended for making detailed information available to the public on its website, including a basic explanation of the Act, a downloadable request form and instructions on how to make a formal request. VIA posted this information as soon as it became subject to the Act, as a service to its customers.

Access officials note that, before commencing the retrieval of any documents, they clarify all requests, via email or telephone. They then send call-out forms to the appropriate departments within VIA. At the same time, they informally ask departments to identify any other groups that might be holding the requested information. The officials report that the majority of employees are accommodating and cooperative, and promptly comply with their requests.

VIA does not have a case management system. Instead, it keeps manual track of all its case-specific data. Access officials did report that the company has a strong information management culture. In particular, an archivist has preserved the institution’s documentation since VIA’s inception in 1978. There are plans to set up an integrated, institution-wide system to reflect the archival process. This will introduce a common way of coding and organizing corporate information that will be conducive to easy records retrieval.

Exemptions and exclusions applied by the institution, 2009–2010

This graph shows how often VIA applied the various exemptions and exclusions in the Act contains to the records it released in 2009–2010. More than half of the exemptions VIA used were under sections 20 (third-party information) and 21 (advice).

The access coordinator has fully delegated authority for access decisions and, as a member of the executive cadre, is in a good position to instill access awareness at the very top levels of the institution. The message is that transparency equates to good governance. Review and revision of VIA’s delegation order is required, however, since the President has delegated powers, duties and functions that are under the OIC’s jurisdiction not VIA’s. These include responsibilities under section 32 of the Access to Information Act (notice of intention to investigate).

There is no sign-off from departments as part of the approval process. The access coordinator makes the final decision on the information to be released. The communications department is informed when there is a sensitive issue at hand, but VIA reports no interference in the release of documents.

Following a large volume of requests in 2008–2009, VIA’s workload levelled off to a more manageable level in 2009–2010: 28 new requests, the majority of which came from the media or corporations. VIA carried no requests over from the previous fiscal year and received no consultation requests. VIA access officials report that they have adequate resources to manage the volume of requests that have come in so far in 2010–2011. There are also resources available should they require external assistance.

VIA sees Canadian taxpayers as its shareholders and considers itself accountable to them, demonstrating this by, among other ways, granting access to its records. VIA also aims to avoid expensive and time-consuming court proceedings through the prompt release of as much information as possible. An additional benefit of this approach is that officials spend less time dealing with complaints to the OIC than they otherwise would. In 2009–2010, two complaints were filed against VIA, both pertaining to responses indicating that there were no records that matched the request. The outcome of these two complaints is pending.

Overall, VIA has exhibited a solid commitment to comply with the Access to Information Act. With a stable access to information office, the institution will become more knowledgeable about using time extensions and procedures such as the partial release of documents, which will help them complete all their requests by the due date and get more records out to requesters more quickly. Based largely on an average completion time of 26.1 days and the institution’s dedication to provide timely access to information, VIA’s rating for 2009–2010 is B.

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

This table sets out the number and outcome of the complaints the OIC registered against VIA in each of the three reporting periods since VIA 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. There have been two complaints against VIA each year. As of the end of 2009–2010, there were three complaints pending, while the other three were either discontinued or found to be not substantiated.

Recommendations

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that VIA Rail Canada Inc. reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

Response

VIA Rail will review its current procedures in order to streamline its process and curtail delays.

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that VIA Rail Canada Inc. review its delegation instrument, since certain powers, duties and functions have been delegated that do not come under VIA’s jurisdiction.

Response

VIA Rail will update and modify its delegation instrument.

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