Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.
Report Cards 2008-2009
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
When formulating the following recommendations, the OIC was mindful of the pressures affecting DFAIT and has, consequently, limited its recommendations to those that DFAIT can immediately implement to reverse the increase in the deemed refusal rate while officials formulate a comprehensive, long-term and achievable plan to improve the institution’s compliance with the Act.
1. The deputy ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada must immediately devote the necessary personnel and financial resources, both in the access division as well as in the program areas, in order to comply fully with the Access to Information Act and, more specifically, enable staff to deal with the backlog, new requests and consultations alike.
The department will continue its active review of the allocation of resources to build the required capacity to meet all its legislative access obligations. To that end, the department did in fact increase its operational funds for access to information in 2008–2009 and as a result processed almost 1,000 more access requests and brought forward many other improvements to the function.
Access officials will follow up with senior departmental officials to address the ongoing need for long-term resource commitments.
In June 2010 DFAIT re-allocated $2.7M of additional ATIP funding and adjusted the ATIP reference level. This injection of new funding will, amongst other things, permit DFAIT to clear the backlog of ATIP files by summer 2011 as well as build additional permanent capacity to meet expected demands.
Nine experienced consultants were hired in July 2010 to work on the Backlog Project and real progress is being seen. So far the Backlog Team has closed 115 late files involving 78,000 pages.
In addition, ten new full time positions were recently created in the ATIP division and are in the process of being staffed.
2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the deputy ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, as well as the appropriate assistant deputy ministers, directors general and directors, comply with the Act, including their responsibility to respond to mandatory consultations, and that these responsibilities be included in their performance agreements.
The senior departmental officials will continue their efforts to meet legislative obligations and will continue to have this commitment reflected in senior management performance management agreements across DFAIT. We should add that the introduction of Monthly ATIP Performance Reports at the senior level did result in improved turnaround times from the program areas.
Access officials will follow up with senior departmental officials.
ATIP compliance is part of all DFAIT Performance Management Agreements (PMAs) for all EX officials at DFAIT.
Also, with the Monthly ATIP Performance Reports, the ATIP Office has seen a significant improvement in turnaround times from program areas. Currently, program areas respond on average to 90% of ATIP taskings on time (within 5 working days), with only approx. 7% of taskings requiring an extension.
3. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada immediately cease counseling other government institutions to close files when there is the prospect of section 13 or section 15 exemptions, and follow through instead with the mandatory consultation process in a timely manner.
The department will continue its efforts to respond to consultations in a timely manner and will no longer suggest to other institutions to close their files when awaiting DFAIT’s recommendations vis-à-vis sections 13 and/or 15 of the Act. We should add that DFAIT has always followed through on consultations received from other government departments, but that foreign governments sometimes take one to three years to respond and, more importantly, are not legally obliged to respond at all. As such, when consultations are anticipated to be lengthy due to the sensitive or complex nature of the issues, DFAIT will support other departments’ interim partial release, where possible, to ensure the applicant’s legitimate request for information is met at the earliest possible time.
The Access to Information and Privacy Division has already modified its response templates for other government departments accordingly.
Due to a number of improvements, since April 1, 2010 the ATIP Office’s turnaround time to respond to consultations from other government institutions has gone from 110 days to an average of 40-60 days.
As part of its overall ATIP improvement plan, the ATIP Office will soon be providing additional guidance to the federal ATIP Community vis-à-vis when and how to consult DFAIT on international affairs matters. For example, providing ATIP Offices with more detailed information as to which records need to be sent to DFAIT versus which ones do not will no doubt greatly improve the consultation process under sections 13 and 15 of the Access to Information Act.
In addition, the ATIP Office recently received Mr. Paul-André Comeau’s « Étude comparative préparée à l’intention de la Commissaire à l’Information du Canada – Les Consultations menées à l’étranger par le Ministère des Affaires étrangères et du Commerce international au titre de la Loi d’accès à l’information ». We are happy to consider the recommendations made in order to address the administrative burden and resulting delays in the foreign consultation process.
4. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada adopt a collaborative approach with the OIC to respond to complaints, in accordance with the specific points enumerated by the OIC in DFAIT’s report card.
The department will continue, as it has always done, to collaborate with the OIC in order to resolve complaints as expeditiously as possible. Current access to information office policy is to respond to all calls and emails from the OIC within 24 hours. In addition, the access office consistently meets the OIC’s 10-day deadline for providing requested records.
The access to information office will continue to assess each complaint on a case-by-case basis in order to come to a mutually agreeable solution. In addition, in cases in which the applicant responds to the fee estimate and wishes to re-scope, the access office will accept to continue with the processing of that initial request if the applicant responds within the specific deadline in the fee notice. Should an applicant respond after a file has been closed, the applicant will be invited to submit a new request to proceed with the modified text.
Complaint files are treated on a priority basis and the ATIP Office continues to make every effort to resolve complaints as expeditiously as possible.
Of importance to note as well has been the steady decline in complaints filed against DFAIT under the Access to Information Act in the last couple of years. It was noted with your Office that had a single case not resulted in almost 70 extension complaints, the number of complaints against DFAIT in fiscal 2009-2010 would have been half of the previous year. Also, at this point in this fiscal 2010-2011, we have received only one fifth of the number of complaints compared to the previous two years. This is clearly indicative of the various efforts being made to meet applicants’ expectations.
Due to capacity issues as well as other factors outside of the ATIP Office’s control (e.g. foreign consultations), DFAIT has not been able to provide the OIC with firm “commitment dates” in most cases to date. We place high priority on complaint files. We are hopeful that given the capacity improvements that are underway and other procedural changes that will address the delays caused by foreign consultations that DFAIT will be in a position to provide commitment dates on most complaint cases in the near future.
Also, regarding fee complaints, while the ATIP Office will continue to assess and charge search and preparation fees when processing voluminous files as permitted by the legislation, we will also continue to exercise discretion in cases that could warrant that a fee be waived. For example, if the processing of a request has faced unreasonable delays due to unfortunate departmental circumstances the applicants are not to bear the cost.