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Canada Revenue Agency
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) administers
tax laws for the Government of Canada and for most provinces and territories.
CRA also delivers economic and social benefit and incentive programs through
the tax system.
(Received a D in
- CRA’s performance in 2010–2011 reflects its
enormous challenges—including receiving 46 percent more new access requests
than in 2008–2009 and having to review more than 1.1 million
pages—notwithstanding significant efforts and support from senior leadership.
CRA’s deemed refusal rate was 33.5 percent, and the average time to complete a
request was 146 days. The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) received
502 complaints against CRA in 2010–2011, the majority of which pertained to
- CRA took concrete steps to eliminate its backlog
of 500 long-standing
requests (there were about 100 left at the end of
2010–2011). CRA took this action to make operations sustainable and improve
performance over the long term.
- CRA responded satisfactorily to two of the OIC’s
five 2008–2009 recommendations and partially to a third. The OIC is still
concerned about CRA’s delegation order and deemed refusal rate. The OIC has re-issued recommendations on
these points, along with new ones to prompt CRA to take
measures that, if successful, would lead to a decrease in its request and
complaint volumes (2010-2011 Recommendations).
|Number of requests carried over from previous fiscal year
|Number of new requests
|Number of requests completed
|Number of pages reviewed for requests completed
|Deemed refusal rate
|Average number of days to complete a request
number of days to complete a request received in 2010–2011
|Number of consultation requests received
|Percentage of required extension notices submitted to the OIC
|Number of complaints registered with the OIC
|Number of complaints the OIC resolved
|Number of full-time equivalents in access to information operations, as of the end of the fiscal year
on 2008–2009 recommendations
order........................... Did not
extensions............................ Met expectations
refusal rate...................... Did
not meet expectations
notices......................... Did not
fully meet expectations
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
** 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 differ from what appeared in
the 2008–2009 report card.
+ The actual staff complement for CRA’s access
to information and privacy office was 79 full-time equivalents (FTEs). When
reporting on its staff complement to the Treasury Board Secretariat, CRA
apportions the number of FTEs according to the ratio of access and privacy
files in its inventory. Therefore, the 38.3 FTEs noted here does not represent
a decrease in staff from 2008–2009, but rather an increase in the ratio of
privacy to access requests, for which staff were proportionately assigned.
The Canada Revenue
Agency’s (CRA) performance in 2010–2011 reflects its
enormous challenges. It received 46 percent more new access requests than in
2008–2009, and officials had to review more than 1.1 million pages for the
requests it closed (the highest volume among institutions in the 2010–2011
report card process). CRA’s deemed refusal rate was 33.5 percent.
CRA made a conscious decision in 2010–2011 to
focus on the backlog of more than 500 long-standing large and complex files to
make operations sustainable and improve performance over the long term. Some of
these files dated from as far back as 2006. When CRA made this decision, it did
not anticipate receiving such a large increase in requests and page volumes in
A dedicated team did reduce the backlog to
about 100 files by the end of 2010–2011. While doing so, however, CRA’s new
requests surged, particularly from frequent requesters, and the deemed refusal
rate increased. Also, by completing older files, the overall average time to
complete a request doubled from the 73 days CRA had achieved in 2008–2009 to 146 days (although it is 56 days
when looking just at requests received and completed in 2010–2011). Complaints to
the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) rose by two thirds to reach
502, by far the most of any of this year’s cohort. Two requesters were
responsible for 78 percent of the complaints the OIC registered against CRA in
2010–2011.The majority of these complaints were delay-related, although 40 percent
of them were subsequently discontinued. Exemption complaints were also high, at
105, along with 95 complaints in the “no records/incomplete response” category. CRA has worked closely with the
OIC to resolve them.
indications stemming from OIC complaint investigations that CRA had been
applying exemptions and exclusions without specifying
the precise parts of the records to which they apply in a limited number of
files. This is having an impact on the OIC’s ability to advance complaint
investigations when CRA has to retroactively apply the exemptions and
exclusions. At the time of writing, CRA appears to have corrected the deficiencies, and reported that a new
redaction system requires analysts to attach a rationale to exemptions when
CRA has long received bulk requests from two
requesters. The institution dealt with this by establishing a dedicated team to
manage these requests. In financial terms, CRA estimates that it had to spend
hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2010–2011 to respond to one of these
requesters. The OIC
acknowledges the trying circumstances under which the CRA operates, and that these bulk
requests and the corresponding complaints challenge CRA’s ability to be
responsive to requesters. These circumstances have also had a significant impact on CRA’s performance and deemed refusal rate and the OIC’s
According to Treasury Board Secretariat
statistics, requests to CRA increased by 44 percent in the 2010-2011 reporting
period. Some institutions have had success in reducing the number of incoming requests by taking a
proactive approach to access to information, by making
certain types of records available on their Internet sites in an effort to be
transparent. This approach
can sometimes divert the number of formal requests to
institution’s “D” grade on the 2008–2009 report card, CRA senior management allotted 21 new
full-time equivalents for access to information and privacy operations at
headquarters as well as the regional offices in Montréal and Vancouver. This was part
of an extensive business plan developed in September 2010. An additional 37 full-time equivalents were added in September
2011. Further new resources were brought on to address auxiliary matters in the
access and privacy office, such as training, communications and information
technology. Managers in the regional offices now have greater delegated authority (as do all
access managers) and no longer require regional assistant commissioners to
approve request responses. This has had a cohesive effect on access operations, access officials said.
CRA reported that it will take a full business
cycle of three to five years to see marked improvement in its access to
Follow-up on the
The OIC issued
five recommendations to CRA 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 its October 2010 progress report, go here).
- CRA amended the delegation order in
response to the OIC’s recommendation so that access managers are now able to
sign off on files that formerly only the two assistant directors could approve.
This change has had positive results for the flow of requests, CRA reported. In
addition, the deputy assistant commissioners were removed from the delegation
order. Despite these improvements, it is the OIC’s view that the delegation
order is still too protracted, with assistant commissioners in the regions and
program areas having delegated authority. Access officials reported that this
configuration has no impact on CRA’s ability to process requests in a timely
manner. However, the OIC’s position remains that protracted delegation orders
create the potential for delay.
- In response to the OIC’s recommendation to document
the criteria it uses for taking extensions for searching through records or
interference with operations, CRA reported that it does not take these extensions systematically
and analysts are required to document the reason for taking them. However, CRA’s use of these extensions remains high, at 902
in 2010–2011, with half of them being for more than 30 days. The institution
reported that it is developing a new procedures manual that will, among other
things, provide guidance on how to make extension decisions.
- The OIC was concerned in 2008–2009
about the size of CRA’s backlog of long-standing requests. In addition to
reducing that inventory by nearly four fifths, and clearing almost all the very
old cases (at the time of writing there were seven access files left from prior
to April 1, 2010), CRA is now working to keep the backlog of more recent files
(requests carried over from 2010–2011 into 2011–2012) under control.
- Despite CRA’s decision to focus on
its backlog, the OIC is very concerned that the deemed refusal rate reached the
level it did (33.5 percent). This is the exact opposite result to the one the
OIC expected when it issued its 2008–2009 recommendation on CRA’s then 15.1-percent deemed
refusal rate, although the OIC recognizes the operational pressures CRA was
working under during 2010–2011. CRA reported that as measures to eliminate the backlog, increase
information disclosure and
make its processes more efficient take effect, its deemed refusal rate is
- Past challenges in reporting extensions of more
than 30 days to the OIC seem to be on the way to being
resolved. The OIC received
84 percent of the required notices (although CRA
reported that it had sent more). This is just one percentage point short of the
85-percent standard for acceptable performance in this area.
Access to information workload, 2008–2009
graph shows the sources of the Canada Revenue Agency’s workload for the three fiscal years starting in 2008–2009. Comparing 2008–2009 to
2010–2011, the institution saw a 45-percent increase in its workload, due to receiving 46 percent more new access requests and having a 51-percent larger carry-over of requests from the
previous fiscal year (43 percent of which were already late). The number of
pages reviewed for requests completed nearly doubled (94-percent increase) to more than 1.1 million, the most among
the institutions that were part of the 2010–2011
report card process.
How long it took to complete new requests, 2008–2009 and 2010–2011
2008–2009 and 2010–2011, the proportion of new access requests the Canada
Revenue Agency (CRA) completed within the timelines (30 days and extended) set
out in the Access to Information Act dropped from 92 percent to 77 percent. The
remaining requests were completed late: 92 requests in 2008–2009 and 400 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 CRA longer to complete these requests: 23 percent were more than 90 days
late in 2010–2011 compared to 10 percent in 2008–2009.
Number and length of time extensions taken, 2008–2009 and 2010–2011
graph shows the number and length of the time extensions the Canada Revenue
Agency (CRA) 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. CRA met the OIC’s 85-percent standard for acceptable performance in this
area in 2008–2009 and came within one percentage point in 2010–2011.
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 the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) in the three fiscal
years starting in 2008–2009: complaints about deemed refusals (access to information requests that CRA delayed beyond the deadlines—30 days and extended—set out in the Access to Information Act) and complaints about CRA’s use of the time extensions
allowed under the Act. The Office of the
Information Commissioner (OIC) received 256 deemed refusal complaints
against CRA in 2010–2011, compared to fewer than 50 in each of the previous two
years. Even excluding the complaints that were discontinued (103), the
2010–2011 complaint volume is still more than three times greater than it had
been in recent years. In contrast, the number of time extension complaints
dropped by 80 percent.
This table sets out the number and
outcome of the complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC)
registered against the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) in the three fiscal years starting
in 2008–2009. In 2010–2011, the number of administrative complaints more than
doubled from the 2008–2009 level, to 296. A large majority of these complaints
(86 percent) pertained to deemed refusals; however, 103 of these were
discontinued. The OIC also registered 105 exemption complaints (refusals)
against CRA in 2010–2011, 91 of which were pending at the time of writing.
Number and outcome of complaints received
by the Office of the Information Commissioner, 2008–2009 to 2010–2011
* Resolved complaints are those that the OIC
finds to have merit and that the institution resolves to the Commissioner’s
** The OIC began using new
disposition categories in 2010–2011. That year, there were four complaints
(three miscellaneous and one refusal) 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.
The OIC is re-issuing the 2008–2009
recommendations about the
CRA’s deemed refusal rate and delegation order. The recommendation about the
extension notices, however, is not being issued as the CRA came within one
percentage point of compliance, and the OIC is mindful of significant other
pressures affecting the CRA. There are two new recommendations, intended to prompt CRA to take measures that, if successful, would
lead to a decrease in its complaint and request volumes.
1. The Office of the Information
Commissioner recommends that the Canada Revenue Agency reduce its deemed
refusal rate to zero.
The CRA agrees with this
recommendation and will continue to strive to reduce its deemed refusal rate as
much as possible. Towards this end, the CRA has developed a robust improvement
plan, and has allocated considerable resources towards its implementation. As
indicated in this report card, the CRA made significant progress eliminating its backlog in 2010–2011. This progress continued
in 2011–2012, during which time the backlog inventory was completely eliminated. Elimination of this aged inventory is expected to make the CRA’s
access to information (ATI) operations sustainable, and improve its
performance over the longer term.
Eliminating this backlog inventory is also expected to reduce the CRA’s deemed
refusal rate over time. Indeed, the CRA’s 2011–2012 deemed refusal rate is
projected to be less than that of 2010–2011.
It should be noted, however, that the
CRA continues to face operational challenges, including those related to
increasing requests and page volumes, particularly as they relate to bulk
requesters—two of whom accounted for one third of the CRA’s ATI inventory in
2010–2011. Within this context, the CRA will strive to reduce its deemed
refusal rate as far as possible. Continued monitoring of performance against
targets will support achievement of this goal.
2. The Office of the Information
Commissioner recommends that the Minister of National Revenue further amend the
delegation order to ensure greater autonomy of the access to information
The CRA accepts this
recommendation, but asserts that it has already taken steps to ensure autonomy
of its access to information coordinator. In response to the OIC’s 2008–2009
report card recommendation, the CRA removed delegations assigned to deputy
assistant commissioners and expanded delegations to managers with the Access to
Information and Privacy Directorate. These measures served to expedite the
processing of requests. The CRA chose not to
remove assistant commissioner delegations at this time, because the complexity
of some ATI requests within the CRA
necessitates a strong consultative relationship between records holders and the
access to information authority, which the
current delegation order provides. Moreover, internal reviews of the CRA approval process have provided no
evidence that delegation of authority to assistant commissioners creates delay.
Within this context, however, the CRA will once again consider the
necessity of amending its delegation order to ensure autonomy of its access to
3. The Office of the Information
Commissioner recommends that the Canada Revenue Agency explore proactive
disclosure measures that would eliminate the need for common and recurring
access to information requests.
The CRA agrees with this recommendation
and has already initiated actions to expand proactive disclosure through internal training and communications, and
by posting the summary lines of completed ATI requests on its website.
It should be noted, however, that the majority of access requests received by
the CRA are taxpayer-related and cannot be addressed through proactive means.
In 2012–2013, the CRA will continue to
promote proactive disclosure by increasing the number of documents available on
the CRA website and through its virtual reading room project. Towards this end,
the Public Affairs Branch will engage with the senior management of each branch
and region to discern where additional proactive disclosure mechanisms could be
invoked. Special effort will be directed to those areas of the CRA where
proactive disclosure mechanisms could potentially be expanded.
in 2012–2013, the Public Affairs Branch will identify areas where additional training of personnel is
required to maximize their understanding and application of informal disclosure mechanisms. Particular attention will be directed to
those areas of the CRA that receive the most requests and/or where informal disclosure mechanisms could be used more
4. The Office of the Information
Commissioner recommends that the Canada Revenue Agency process all records
properly, specifying the precise part to which each exemption or exclusion
applies at the point when they are being invoked.
The CRA agrees with this
recommendation and has already taken steps to ensure that sufficient
explanation is provided when exemptions and exclusions are invoked. As the OIC
states in this assessment, the CRA has already committed to providing
strengthened justifications within its ATI files. However, the CRA contends
that, notwithstanding the cases already discussed with OIC, this is already a
general practice within the CRA.
In 2012–2013, the CRA will invoke additional
measures to ensure strong explanations are included when applying exemptions
and exclusions. An updated redaction system, which
will be launched in May 2012, will not allow exemptions or exclusions to
be applied unless accompanied by a justification. Manuals are also being updated so analysts are provided with
better guidance on how to document use of exclusions and exemptions, and this
documentation will be supplemented with internal training.
5. The Office of the Information
Commissioner recommends that the Canada Revenue Agency report on its progress
implementing these recommendations in its annual report to Parliament on access
to information operations.
The CRA fully agrees with this recommendation. Each year, the CRA tables its
Annual Report to Parliament on the Administration of the Access to Information Act in order to provide an overview of progress and challenges faced during the
fiscal year. The CRA will ensure the annual report provides an update on
progress made against OIC recommendations.