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Delays in the System – Report Cards

A: Report Cards: Part I

For several years, a number of institutions were subject to review because of evidence of chronic difficulty in meeting response deadlines. In his 1996-97 annual report to Parliament, the former information commissioner reported that delays in responding to access requests had reached crisis proportions.

In 1998, at the beginning of this Information Commissioner’s term, the "report card" system was commenced. Selected departments were graded on the basis of the percentage of the access requests received that were not answered within the statutory deadlines of the Access to Information Act. Under the Act, late answers are deemed to be refusals. Initially, the report cards were tabled in Parliament as specials reports; since 2000-01, they have been included within the commissioner’s annual report.

With the introduction of the report cards, the Information Commissioner initially observed a dramatic reduction in the number of delay complaints: from a high of 49.5 percent in 1998-99 to a low of 14.5 percent of complaints in 2003-04. However, in recent years, the number has begun to rise again. This year, they account for 24.1 percent of the complaints from the public, up from 21.1 percent last year. The Office of the Information Commissioner will continue to focus its attention on the delay problem in order to remind government institutions of their responsibilities to provide timely responses to requests.

The Information Commissioner has adopted the following standard as being the best measure of a department’s compliance with response deadlines – percentage of requests received which end as deemed refusals:

% of Deemed Refusals Comment Grade
0-5 % Ideal compliance A
5-10 % Substantial compliance B
10-15 % Borderline compliance C
15-20 % Below standard compliance D
More than 20 % Red alert F

Like last year, the deemed-refusal ratio to requests received takes into consideration those requests carried over from the previous year, including the number of requests already in a deemed-refusal status on April 1, 2005.

This year, the Office of the Information Commissioner reviewed the status of requests in a deemed-refusal situation for the following twelve departments: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC); Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC); Fisheries and Oceans Canada (F&O); Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT); Health Canada (HCan); Industry Canada (IC); Justice Canada (Jus); Library and Archives Canada (LAC); National Defence (ND); Privy Council Office (PCO); Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC); Transport Canada (TC).

Using the grading scale, the results attained by the twelve government institutions reviewed this year are set out in Table 1.

Table 1: New Request to Deemed-Refusal Ratio - April 1 to November 30, 2005

Department April 1 to November 30, 2004 April 1 to November 30, 2005
% of Deemed Refusals Grade % of Deemed Refusals Grade
AAFC 21.9 F 38.7 F
CIC 13.8 C 15.3 D
DFAIT 28.8 F 60.1 F
F&O 5.2 B 12.7 C
HCan 17.2 D 18.9 D
IC 16.1 D 5.9 B
Jus 43.0 F 38.8 F
LAC 70.0 F 55.5 F
ND 9.5 B 14.8 C
PCO 26.5 F 31.9 F
PWGSC 17.7 D 7.3 B
TC 7.2 B 9.2 B

Two institutions improved their performance over last year, six showed no change, and three received lower grades than last year. Congratulations to for achieving an "A" compared with the "D" received by PWGSC last year. A positive effort was noted by Public Works and Government Services Canada, and again by Industry Canada in its third year in the reporting system, as both institutions’ grades went from a "D" to a "B". Transport Canada has levelled off at a grade of "B" over the last two years; it is to be hoped that the department will press ahead to achieve ideal compliance in 2006-07. Although Library and Archives Canada again received an "F", much progress has been made, and LAC has virtually eliminated its backlog (by March 31, 2006). LAC has devoted some $850,000 in new resources to the task of coming into compliance with the law’s response deadlines. Moreover, it has entirely re-engineered its access to information request processes to ensure sustainability in the long term. LAC is making itself a model in government of how to make the access law work efficiently and effectively. DFAIT, too, received an "F", but it has devoted some $500,000 in new resources, and developed a good business plan to bring it into ideal compliance with response deadlines before the end of 2007-08. Kudos to DFAIT for its serious commitment to coming into compliance with response deadlines. Of concern is the number of institutions whose performance has slipped in the past year, particularly the Privy Council Office and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada who have both slipped deeper into "Red Alert".

Table 2: Grading from 1998 to 2005 (April 1 to November 30)

DEPT 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
AAFC - - - - - - F F
F&O - - F F A A B C
HCan F A - - A C D D
IC - - - - - F D B
Jus - - - - - - F F
LAC - - - - - - F F
PCO F A - - D F F F
PWGSC - - - - F D D B
TC - F F C D B B B

Note: Only grades from 2003 and onwards were calculated with the new formula that takes into consideration those requests carried over from the previous year.

Table 2 illustrates that government institutions have not taken the steps necessary to ensure that timeframes under the Access to Information Act are respected on a consistent basis. It is particularly discouraging that two important "example setters" – PCO and Jus – have had failing grades again this year, despite past assurances to the Information Commissioner and Parliament that they would respect their lawful obligations.

There appear to be five main causes of delay in processing access requests:

  • Inadequate resources in ATIP offices;
  • Chronic tardiness in the retrieval of records due to poor records management and staff shortages in offices of primary interest (OPIs);
  • Difficulties encountered during the consultation process with third parties and other government institutions;
  • Top-heavy approval processes, including too much "hand-wringing" over politically sensitive requests and too frequent holdups in ministers’ offices; and
  • Poor communications with requesters to clarify access requests.

The complete text of the twelve reviews conducted this year is available on our website at

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