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Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (formerly Indian and Northern Affairs Canada)

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) is responsible for meeting the Government of Canada's obligations and commitments to Canada's First Nations, Inuit and Métis, and for fulfilling the federal government's constitutional responsibilities in the North. AANDC supports Aboriginal people and northerners in their efforts to improve their social well-being and economic prosperity, develop healthier, more sustainable communities, and participate more fully in Canada's political, social and economic development.

Assessment: F

(Received a C in 2008–2009)

  • AANDC performed poorly in 2010–2011, despite an overall decrease in workload. It completed nearly half of the new requests it received after the deadline it had set, and the overall average time to complete a request was 128 days. The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) registered more than triple the number of complaints against AANDC in 2010–2011 than it did in 2008–2009. More than half of these complaints were delay-related.
  • The current access coordinator cited a number of factors that may have affected performance, including staff turnover and inexperience, as well as access analysts being tasked with non-access work, such as responding to privacy requests and queries about Indian status.
  • AANDC did not respond satisfactorily to four out of the OIC's five 2008–2009 recommendations. As a result, the OIC is re-issuing recommendations in these areas, along with new ones to prompt much needed improvement (2010-2011 Recommendations).
QUICK FACTS
2008–2009 2010–2011
Number of requests carried over from previous fiscal year 80 100
Number of new requests 378 312
Number of requests completed 373 278
Number of pages reviewed for requests completed 115,999 73,348
Deemed refusal rate 11.6%* 51%*
Average number of days to complete a request 102 128
Number of consultation requests received 139 135
Percentage of required extension notices submitted to the OIC <85% <85%
Number of complaints registered with the OIC 13 47
Number of complaints the OIC resolved 6** 18**
Number of full-time equivalents in access to information operations, as of the end of the fiscal year 13 10.95
Follow-up on 2008–2009 recommendations

Deemed refusal rate...................................Did not meet expectations

Records management.............................................Met expectations

Extension notices......................................Did not meet expectations

Average completion time............................Did not meet expectations

See report card text for details. For the full text of the recommendations and the institution's response, 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

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) first took part in the report card process in 2008–2009, when it received a "C" grade. Since then, AANDC's access to information performance has sharply declined, despite a reduced workload. The institution completed nearly half of the new requests it received in 2010–2011 after the deadline (30 days or extended) it had set, and the overall average time to complete a request was 128 days. In 2010–2011, the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) registered more than triple the number of complaints against AANDC than it had in 2008–2009. More than half these complaints were delay-related (18 deemed refusal complaints and 10 time extension complaints).

A number of factors may have accounted for this poor performance in the 2010-2011 reporting period. There had been significant staff turnover in the access to information office, which already had a number of vacancies in 2008–2009. However, AANDC had 10.95 full-time equivalents handling access matters in 2010–2011, which translates to about 30 new requests per year for each staff member. This is a reasonable ratio in the OIC's estimation.

AANDC also reported that access analysts were spending their time doing privacy and other work during the reporting period because there were no designated privacy analysts on staff. This is significant, since lawyers for Indian residential school claimants were reportedly advising their clients to request their records through the privacy process, which added to the division's workload. Members of the access to information staff were also taking on additional tasks such as responding to requests for Indian status verification.

AANDC analysts were also reported to have initially lacked experience in the access field. They had been drawn into analytical positions from collective pools of candidates with the requisite competencies, but not necessarily experience applying access legislation.

In response to the 2008–2009 recommendations, AANDC initiated weekly reporting of Access to Information Activity to senior management. AANDC also reported that the coordinator and some senior managers have access to information compliance included in their performance management agreements.

Despite AANDC's unsatisfactory performance in 2010–2011, the institution reduced its backlog of long-standing requests from 150 to 55 by the end of the reporting period. Consultants were used for this task, but will now be scaled back in favour of hiring permanent staff into an estimated 16 positions. AANDC has also drafted an improvement plan for its access to information operations. In addition, the institution began posting summaries of completed access requests online well in advance of the Treasury Board Secretariat requirement to do so.

In July 2011, AANDC hired a new access to information coordinator at the executive level with the aim of revitalizing the program and giving it a higher profile in the institution. Officials report considerable progress, including elimination of the backlog, a much improved compliance rate, increased training and support from senior management.

Follow-up on the 2008–2009 recommendations

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

  1. At the time the recommendations were issued, AANDC agreed with the OIC that the deputy minister and minister needed to show leadership to establish a culture of compliance at AANDC, and committed to look more closely into improved accountability measures. Despite some progress in this regard, AANDC's performance declined considerably in the 2010–2011 reporting period. Based on its observations over the years it has been preparing report cards, the OIC is of the view that tangible results, such as an improvement in deemed refusal rate, are a sure sign of management commitment to the access to information function.
  2. AANDC committed to improving its deemed refusal rate, and only taking extensions for legitimate reasons, not to keep responses on time. AANDC was not successful in reducing its deemed refusal rate—in fact, it increased by nearly 40 percentage points from 2008–2009. In addition, the number and proportion of the new requests for which AANDC took extensions both increased.
  3. In terms of records management, the current access coordinator explained that AANDC's access to information case management system, corporate electronic record repository and information management policies have been in place since 2005. Together, these have greatly increased the accuracy of retrieval. Consequently, AANDC reports that records management is not a significant challenge to the success of the access program.
  4. In 2008–2009, AANDC submitted fewer than 85 percent of the required notices about the extensions it took for more than 30 days. In 2010–2011, while the number of submissions improved, it did not come up to the OIC's 85-percent standard for acceptable performance in this area.
  5. In response to the recommendation that AANDC reduce its average completion time for requests, AANDC said it would conduct a workload analysis to examine how requests are processed and where it could be more efficient. This was reported to be part of ongoing monitoring efforts. These efforts have not borne fruit, however, with the average completion time rising from 102 days in 2008–2009 to 128 days in 2010–2011.

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

This graph shows the sources of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's workload for the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. Comparing 2008–2009 to 2010–2011, the institution saw an 8-percent decrease in its workload. It received 17 percent fewer access requests and 3 percent fewer consultation requests, while the number of requests the institution carried over from the previous fiscal year increased by one quarter. The number of pages reviewed for requests completed dropped 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 Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) completed within the timelines (30 days and extended) set out in the Access to Information Act dropped from 92 percent to 54 percent. The remaining requests were completed late: 21 requests in 2008–2009 and 94 in 2010–2011. The Office of the Information Commissioner is concerned, first, that the pool of requests completed late more than quadrupled and, second, that it took AANDC longer to complete these requests—in particular, that the number of overdue requests that took more than 90 days past the due date to complete grew from 4 to 32.

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 Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) 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. AANDC submitted fewer than 85 percent of these notices in 2008–2009, at which point the OIC issued a recommendation that AANDC improve its performance in this area. While the institution did submit more notices in 2010–2011, it did not meet the OIC's 85-percent standard for acceptable performance. The OIC notes the increase in the number of long extensions AANDC took in 2010–2011.

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 Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) in the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009: complaints about deemed refusals (access to information requests that AANDC delayed beyond the deadlines—30 days and extended—set out in the Access to Information Act) and complaints about AANDC's use of the time extensions allowed under the Act. The number of both types of complaint against AANDC has increased since 2008–2009.

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 Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) in the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. The 13 complaints in 2008–2009 were fewer than in the previous year; however, the number of complaints more than tripled in 2010–2011, rising to 47. The complaints are increasingly in the administrative category, which includes complaints about deemed refusals, fees and time extensions.

Number and outcome of complaints received by the Office of the Information Commissioner, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011
RESOLVED* NOT SUBSTANTIATED DISCONTINUED PENDING TOTAL
2008–2009
Administrative 4 2 1 0 7
Refusals 2 0 4 0 6
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 6 2 5 0 13
2009–2010
Administrative 17 1 2 1 21
Refusals 2 0 1 4 7
Cabinet confidences 0 0 1 0 1
Total 19 1 4 5 29
2010–2011
Administrative 17 2 9** 9 37
Refusals 1 0 1 8 10
Cabinet confidences 0 0 0 0 0
Total 18 2 10 17 47

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

** The OIC began using new disposition categories in 2010–2011. That year, there were two miscellaneous complaints in the new Settled category, which comprises complaints about minor errors, settled to the Commissioner's satisfaction without a finding. For reporting purposes, these complaints were placed in the Discontinued category.

2010–2011 recommendations

Given AANDC's poor performance in 2010–2011 and that it did not respond satisfactorily to four out of the OIC's five 2008–2009 recommendations, the OIC is re-issuing recommendations in these areas, along with new ones to prompt much needed improvement.

1.  The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Minister and the Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada take a strong leadership role in establishing a culture of compliance throughout the institution.

RESPONSE: While AANDC understands the concern of the OIC with respect to departmental numbers for the period in question (2010–2011), it is important to note that the eight recommendations given are outdated, since they refer to that period only. As such, AANDC's responses detail both the current performance of the department and the actions it took during 2010–2011 and 2011–2012 to arrive there.

The department began remedial action as early as January 2010, culminating in the current compliance rating of 100%. Upon receiving the OIC's recommendations from its 2008–2009 Report Card, the Deputy Minister immediately followed through in developing and implementing an action plan to remedy the irritants and systemic issues that were hampering compliance. As detailed to the OIC in its response letter of January 19, 2010, this included improving accountability to and from senior management, applying extensions more regularly in order to avoid deemed refusals, undertaking a workload analysis, copying the OIC on all extension notices, and increasing our training. Measures proposed in the action plan were implemented during 2010–2011.

Furthermore, senior management took swift action to implement the plan by completing the workload analysis by March 2010. Senior management also took direct responsibility for reviewing, assessing and determining a course of action for all backlog files which resulted in the complete elimination of the backlog by Q3 2011–2012. However, the unfortunate but expected statistical outcome of eliminating a backlog of aged requests was the inflation of the departmental deemed refusal rate and average completion time. The gap analysis and mapping of processes was completed in June 2011.

It should not be overlooked that the leadership of the Deputy Minister and the Associate Deputy Minister were critical factors in ensuring that the ATIP program was set, and remains, on the right course.

2.  The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada exercise close management oversight of access to information operations to ensure improvement. 

RESPONSE: Soon after AANDC received the recommendations from the OIC's 2008–2009 Report Card in December 2009, the Deputy Minister began close tracking and oversight of access to information operations. Senior Management was apprised weekly on the administration of access requests via weekly reports on incoming and outgoing requests. Additionally, a report on record retrieval performance by program areas was developed for monthly tabling at Senior Management Committee. These practices have continued consistently since their inception and are a regular part of the current ATIP reporting regime.

3.  The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that the Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada ensure that there are sufficient resources to manage the workload in the access to information office division and that these resources are primarily dedicated to processing access to information requests.

RESPONSE: Since Q2 2011–2012, AANDC has been maintaining 100% compliance with the ATIA, therefore it is our view that current staffing levels are adequate to meet our demand.

4.  The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that senior access to information officials at Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada ensure that their staff are fully trained in how to apply the Access to Information Act.

RESPONSE: During 2011–2012, several staff members attended the Canada School of Public Service course of ATIP fundamentals. During the same period AANDC staffed two permanent positions at the PM-05 level with experienced ATIP professionals to be team leaders and provide ongoing individual coaching and mentoring to analysts as needed. As part of its year-long training plan, the ATIP Division also included bi-weekly in-house training sessions on specific sections of the ATIA for interested analysts. In addition, cases of interest are brought forward at divisional meetings in order to foster shared learning among analysts.

5.  The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada reduce its deemed refusal rate to zero.

RESPONSE: AANDC has achieved and maintained 100% compliance with the legislation since Q2 2011.

6.  The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada comply with the Act and notify the Office of the Information Commissioner of all the extensions it takes for more than 30 days.

RESPONSE: AANDC will continue to copy the OIC on all notices of extension over 30 days.

7.  The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada reduce its average completion time for access requests.

RESPONSE: As of Q2 2011–2012, AANDC's average completion time on requests that do not require consultation is approximately 22 to 27 days, well under the 30 days permitted by the legislation.

8.  The Office of the Information Commissioner recommends that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada report in its annual report to Parliament on access to information operations on its progress implementing its improvement plan and these recommendations.

RESPONSE: AANDC will continue to adhere to the required format in reporting on all aspects of its operations in the departmental Access to Information Act Annual Report to Parliament.