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This report is
the third in a series by the Office of the Information Commissioner looking into delays
in responding to access to information requests by federal institutions and assessing their overall compliance
with the Access to Information Act.
To assess the subject
institutions, we developed in 2008–2009 three indicators of delay and then
collected statistical and contextual information to form a complete picture of
institutions’ operations. The 2010–2011 sample comprised the 18 at-risk and
below-average performers from the 2008–2009 report card process. Out of these,
13 improved their performance, two received the same grade and three performed
worse in 2010–2011.
We also developed
detailed indicators to assess institutions’ timeliness in responding to
requests, and found signs of improvement. This progress, in combination with
effective oversight, ongoing and adequate resources for the access function,
and leadership by ministers and senior officials, bodes well for more timely
responses to access requests and greater compliance with the Act.
We were encouraged
that seven institutions had deemed refusal rates (requests completed late as a
proportion of overall caseload) of less than 10 percent in 2010–2011, compared
to just one among this same group of institutions in 2008–2009. In addition, 10
institutions significantly reduced their backlog of long-standing requests, and
a number completed requests received in 2010–2011 in times approaching 30 days or
fewer. Finally, while institutions were
still closing only half of overdue requests in the first 30 days after the due
date in 2010–2011, there were nearly one
quarter fewer late requests than in 2008–2009.
During the 2008–2009
report card exercise, we identified six systemic issues (leadership,
delegation orders, time extensions, consultations, resources and
information/records management) as sources of chronic delay. Many of our recommendations at that time focused on
these themes. Generally speaking, the institutions that significantly improved their
rating for 2010–2011 were those that implemented most of those recommendations.
improvement in institutions’ performance against the measures of timeliness
that we have been tracking over the past three years suggests that institutions
are providing more timely service to requesters and that the report cards and
the follow-up by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to
Information, Privacy and Ethics have had a positive effect.
Nonetheless, we are
concerned about the fragile health of the access system, particularly in light
of recent budget cuts. Those reductions could jeopardize the gains institutions
have made, especially if the number of requests continues to climb, as it has
Given the improved
performance, however, we will suspend our report card exercise until at least
2014. We will dedicate all of our investigative resources to pursuing
individual complaints, in order to maximize disclosure of information. In the
meantime, we have recommended that institutions report to Parliament in their
annual report on access to information operations on their progress
implementing our recommendations, so federal institutions can be held to
account for their access to information operations.