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Health Canada

Health Canada helps Canadians maintain and improve their health. In partnership with provincial and territorial governments, Health Canada develops health policy, enforces regulations, promotes disease prevention and enhances healthy living for all Canadians. It also ensures that health services are available and accessible to First Nations and Inuit communities.

Assessment: C

(Received a D in 2008–2009)

  • Health Canada improved its 2010–2011 performance in some areas but not others. Its deemed refusal rate was 15.8 percent, and it completed 62 percent more files than it did in 2008–2009. However, because of an increase in new requests, the number of cases carried over into 2011–2012 grew from previous years. The number of complaints against Health Canada also increased in 2010–2011.
  • Health Canada has implemented a plan to improve access operations and reports that it is starting to show results. Nonetheless, the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) remains concerned about the poor state of records management and the institution's continued reliance on extensions for searches through records.
  • While Health Canada's overall performance improved, the institution did not satisfactorily implement two of the OIC's six 2008–2009 recommendations. There is still room for improvement. As a result, the OIC is re-issuing outstanding recommendations, along with several new ones (2010-2011 Recommendations).
QUICK FACTS
2008–2009 2010–2011
Number of requests carried over from previous fiscal year 359 545
Number of new requests 1,158 1,602
Number of requests completed 950 1,535
Number of pages reviewed for requests completed 341,253 467,172
Deemed refusal rate 19.3%* 15.8%*
Average number of days to complete a request 132 144
Average number of days to complete a request received in 2010–2011 n/a 60
Number of consultation requests received 204 243
Percentage of required extension notices submitted to the OIC <85% >85%
Number of complaints registered with the OIC 43 81
Number of complaints the OIC resolved 24** 42**
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information operations, as of the end of the fiscal year 19.5 20.44
Follow-up on 2008–2009 recommendations

Leadership........................................................ Met expectations

Delegation order.............................................. Met expectations

Backlog............................................................. Met expectations

Time extensions............................... Did not meet expectations

Records management..................... Did not meet expectations

Deemed refusal rate........................................ Met expectations See report card text for details. For the full text of the recommendations, as well as the institution's initial response and October 2010 progress report, go here.

*   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 B for the formula the OIC used to calculate this rate.)

** A complaint is resolved when the OIC finds it has merit and the institution resolves it to the Commissioner's satisfaction. The number of complaints reported here is current as of November 2011. As a result, the figure for 2008–2009 may be different from what appeared in the 2008–2009 report card.

Report card

Health Canada improved its 2010-2011 performance in some areas but not in others. Its deemed refusal rate was 15.8 percent, down from 19.3 percent in 2008–2009. With nearly the same number of staff, Health Canada completed 62 percent more files than it did in 2008–2009. However, because of an increase in new requests, the number of cases carried over into 2011–2012 grew from that carried over into 2008–2009. The number of complaints against Health Canada also increased in 2010–2011 (administrative and refusal complaints each more than doubled).

Health Canada was able to reduce its backlog of long-standing requests by almost half, clearing all but one of the remaining files from 2007. However, it fell well short of its goal to completely clear the backlog by the end of 2010–2011, and a very dated inventory remains. Of additional concern is that almost half of the new files that were overdue in 2010–2011 took Health Canada more than 90 days after the deadline to complete.

Following the 2008–2009 report card, when Health Canada received a "D" grade, the institution launched the ATIP Transformation Action Plan in an attempt to turn its performance around. Additionally, new leadership at Health Canada is reported to have made efforts to bring access to information into sharper focus across the institution. In its October 2010 progress report to the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC), Health Canada reported seeing progress against the milestones and targets set out in the plan. Subsequently, there has been even further progress toward clearing the backlog, access officials said, with a team dedicated to eliminating it.

Integration of access to information into the performance agreements of certain senior executives has improved turnaround time for record retrieval from program areas. Nonetheless, and despite repeated promises for improvement to both the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics and the OIC, Health Canada continues to face significant information management challenges. There are many records that are simply not available, even though they reportedly should be. Health Canada's access to information office also reports serious concerns about centrally managed records, and the ability to find requested records as quickly as possible using the system. Health Canada continues to take many extensions for searching through its holdings (138 for fewer than 30 days and 215 for more than 30 days).

On the OIC's 2010–2011 report card questionnaire, the institution mentioned a "new communication and notification" procedure that replaced the former HI-SENS approval process, and which is reported to respect the delegation order. Responsible offices are notified of requests of interest in order to prepare for further public enquiry, but access officials said this step does not hold up the release.

Health Canada deals with many complex requests that involve third-party information, as evidenced by the large number of extensions it takes to consult with third parties. The OIC is concerned, in some instances, on two fronts: that Health Canada continues to take extensions for the resulting consultations consecutively rather than concurrently, as the Access to Information Act intends; and that Health Canada does not respect the timelines set out in the Act for the conduct of those consultations, according to certain OIC investigations into specific complaints.

Follow-up on the 2008–2009 recommendations

The OIC issued six recommendations to Health Canada with the 2008–2009 report card. The following summarizes the subsequent developments at the institution in response. (For the full text of the recommendations, the institution's response and October 2010 progress report, go here.)

  1. Senior management has begun to focus on the access to information function, and a transformation plan has been established to improve performance. This meets the requirements of the OIC's recommendation.
  2. Health Canada implemented a new communication and notification procedure that is reported to respect the delegation order and not hold up the release of information.
  3. Health Canada decreased its backlog of long-standing requests by 45 percent. This is not the reduction Health Canada was aiming for; however, it is a significant drop in its inventory.
  4. The OIC is still concerned about Health Canada's use of time extensions. The OIC is re-issuing its recommendation in this regard.
  5. Records management continues to be a challenge at Health Canada, despite the OIC's recommendation that this had to be addressed in order to ensure quick retrieval of records. The OIC is re-issuing its recommendation in this regard.
  6. Health Canada reduced its deemed refusal rate by nearly four percentage points in 2010–2011 but, at 15.8 percent, the rate should come down more. The OIC has re-issued its recommendation in this regard.

Access to information workload, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011

This graph shows the sources of Health Canada's workload for the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. Comparing 2008–2009 to 2010–2011, the institution saw a 38-percent increase in its workload. This was accounted for by increases in all three categories of incoming work: new requests (38 percent), requests carried over from the previous fiscal year (51 percent) and consultation requests (19 percent). The number of pages reviewed for requests completed increased by 37 percent.

Access to information workload, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011

Text Version

How long it took to complete new requests, 2008–2009 and 2010–2011

Between 2008–2009 and 2010–2011, the proportion of new access requests Health Canada completed within the timelines (30 days and extended) set out in the Access to Information Act rose from 79 percent to 91 percent. The remaining requests were completed late: 142 requests in 2008–2009 and 97 in 2010–2011. The Office of the Information Commissioner is concerned that the number of requests that were late by more than 30 days increased by 3 percentage points between 2008–2009 and 2010–2011, and, more particularly, that the proportion of overdue requests closed in more than 90 days after the deadline grew from 39 percent in 2008–2009 to 45 percent in 2010–2011.

How long it took to complete new requests, 2008–2009 and 2010–2011

Text Version

Number and length of time extensions taken, 2008–2009 and 2010–2011

This graph shows the number and length of the time extensions Health Canada reported to have taken in 2008–2009 and 2010–2011. The institution supplied this information in the notices it sent to the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) under subsection 9(2) of the Access to Information Act. Health Canada submitted fewer than 85 percent of the required notices in 2008–2009, at which point the OIC issued a recommendation that Health Canada improve its performance in this area. In 2010–2011, Health Canada submitted more than 85 percent of the required notices. The OIC notes with concern the significant increase in the number of extensions Health Canada took in 2010–2011 of unknown duration. Institutions must include the length of the extensions on the notices they submit.

Number and length of time extensions taken, 2008–2009 and 2010–2011

Text Version

Number and outcome of delay-related complaints, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011

These graphs show the number and outcome of two types of complaint registered against Health Canada in the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009: complaints about deemed refusals (access to information requests that Health Canada delayed beyond the deadlines—30 days and extended—set out in the Access to Information Act) and complaints about Health Canada's use of the time extensions allowed under the Act. The number of deemed refusal complaints against Health Canada increased by 50 percent. Over the same period, the number of time extension complaints fell from 11 to 4.

Number and outcome of delay-related complaints, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011

Text Version

Number and outcome of complaints received by the Office of the Information Commissioner, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011

This table sets out the number and outcome of the complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) registered against Health Canada in the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. The overall number of complaints nearly doubled between 2008–2009 and 2010–2011. In both the administrative and refusal categories, the number of complaints decreased between 2008–2009 and 2009–2010 but then increased by 117 percent and 125 percent, respectively, in 2010–2011.

 

Resolved*

Not substantiated

Discontinued

Pending

Total

2008–2009
Administrative 22 1 11 0 34
Refusals 1 3 2 2 8
Cabinet confidences 1 0 0 0 1
Total 24 4 13 2 43
2009–2010
Administrative 15 4 9 1 29
Refusals 2 1 2 2 7
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 1 1
Total 17 5 11 4 37
2010–2011
Administrative 37 1 6 19 63
Refusals 5 1 6 6 18
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 42 2 12 25 81

* Resolved complaints are those that the OIC finds to have merit and that the institution resolves to the Commissioner's satisfaction.

2010–2011 recommendations

While Health Canada's overall performance improved, it did not satisfactorily implement two of the OIC's six 2008–2009 recommendations. A "C" grade is tenuous and indicates that there is still room for improvement. As a result, the OIC is re-issuing outstanding recommendations, along with a number of new ones.

1. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Minister of Health and the Deputy Minister of Health Canada demonstrate leadership to support the improvement efforts of the access to information office.

RESPONSE: Health Canada agrees with this recommendation and is committed to ensuring that the department significantly improves how it responds to access to information requests.

In an effort to better serve the public and respond within legislative timelines, HC will continue to implement the Access to Information (ATI) Transformation Action Plan, approved by HC's Executive Committee in November 2010, and to focus on the areas identified by the OIC as requiring further attention. The department is committed to continuous improvement in respect to ATI requests. Over the 2011–2012 fiscal year, HC's compliance rate was up from 81.2% in 2009–2010 to 91.5%, while the number of complaints declined from over 5% to 3.6%. These positive results were also achieved at a time when HC received 1,763 requests and analyzed over 600,000 pages of information.

2. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that any internal notification procedure related to an impending release not reduce the amount of information that is disclosed or affect the timeliness of the disclosure.

RESPONSE: HC agrees with this recommendation.

The internal notification procedure was revised in 2011–2012 and is based on the best practices identified by the OIC. The new procedure enables HC to respect legislative timelines for releasing ATI requests, while program branches work with the departmental communications branch to prepare briefing and communication materials needed to support departmental operations.

3. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Health Canada continue to reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

RESPONSE: HC agrees with this recommendation and recognizes that it must do more to reduce the deemed refusal rate in 2012–2013. Though HC has been able to reduce the percentage of deemed refusals significantly (down from 22.5% in 2009–2010 to 11.1%), it will continue to make every effort to improve the timeliness of its responses to the public.

Performance information on ATI will be provided to the department's senior management on a monthly basis.

4. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Health Canada set out fixed time frames within which consulted institutions have an opportunity to provide their severing recommendations. Failing that Health Canada, as the government institution in receipt of the request, would determine for itself any applicable exemptions, in order to respect the timelines.

RESPONSE: HC agrees with this recommendation and will continue exploring how to improve the way it conducts consultations with other government institutions. It also recognizes that the deadlines associated with requests need to set out a specific time frame for the consultations and if these times are not met, HC must be prepared to take a decision on disclosure issues. HC's ATIP Coordinator will also work with the Office of the Information Commissioner on best practices for setting performance expectations in relation to the type of exemptions and the size and complexity of files as an additional way to improve its compliance rate.

5. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Health Canada clearly articulate in its internal procedures that all necessary consultations be undertaken in a manner consistent with the Treasury Board Secretariat guidelines, and that consultations with multiple government institutions and third parties be conducted concurrently.

RESPONSE: HC agrees with this recommendation. In accordance with Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) guidelines HC will work closely with all third parties to set out legislative due dates and processes, whereby appropriate exemptions can be applied under the ATI Act.

HC has also drafted a series of internal procedures, consistent with TBS guidelines, for carrying on consultations, particularly when it comes to concurrent processes.

6. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Health Canada document and review the criteria it uses for extensions to ensure that the extensions are reasonable and legitimate.

RESPONSE: HC agrees with this recommendation.

HC has drafted Standard Operating Procedures on the application of extensions. These will be shared with the Office of the Information Commissioner.

7. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Health Canada's access to information office contribute to the institution's IM Action Plan to ensure a quick and proper search of records in response to access to information requests.

RESPONSE: HC agrees with this recommendation and is currently considering an Information Management Strategy that will substantially improved the time needed to retrieve records. Steps have already been taken to improve the electronic transfer of files, reducing the dependence on paper-based processes and improving record search times. HC has streamlined its review process to further enhance on-time performance.

8. The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Health Canada report on its progress implementing these recommendations and its ATIP Transformation Action Plan in its annual report to Parliament on access to information operations.

RESPONSE: HC agrees with this recommendation and will be incorporating the Office of the Information Commissioner's recommendations into both the ATI Transformation Plan and its Annual Report to Parliament.

To date the Department has exceeded a majority of the targets set out in the November 2010 Transformation Plan. The compliance rate for 2011–2012 is 91.5% (up from 81.2% in 2009–2010) and the average number of late files is down to 9 per month. The percentage of complaints is down to 3.6% from over 5% in 2010–2011 and the 204 backlog files from 2009–2010 are also down to 11. In November 2010, HC became one of the first departments to begin proactively posting a monthly list of previously released records on its website.

HC is committed to informing Canadians, and it will be identifying other opportunities to provide more information to the public under the Open Government Initiative.