Our sustained and ongoing efforts to ensure that federal institutions meet their obligations under the Access to Information Act and are accountable for their actions and decisions to the Canadian public bore fruit this year. We instilled a solution-oriented culture that relies on evidence-based analysis to develop the most effective remedies to well-defined issues.
Taking critical action on investigations
Through concerted effort to significantly improve our investigative function (see Chapter 1), we closed more complaints than we have in any year in the past two decades, and we made the largest dent ever in our existing caseload. The number of cases we have had on file for more than two years continued to fall. We also reduced by nearly one third the average time it took us to conclude investigations into our more recent complaints.
Keys to our success
In September 2009, we drew up a comprehensive action plan to maximize our efficiency gains and provide more timely and effective response to complaints.
Building our capacity
- We implemented an integrated human resources strategy.
- We staffed our investigative teams to full capacity.
- We hired experienced investigators on contract to work on our oldest and most complex cases.
- We developed an in-house program of targeted training.
- We placed renewed emphasis on our career development program.
- We developed, monitored and adjusted targets for investigators.
Enhancing case management
- We adopted a portfolio approach to investigations.
- We collaborated with complainants and institutions to resolve complaints and sought feedback on how best we could assist them.
- We dedicated a team to our longstanding cases.
- We closely monitored our progress on files and promptly raised issues of concern with senior institutional officials, when required.
Auditing and adjusting our processes
- We improved our intake processes.
- We simplified how we prioritize complaints.
- We streamlined our approach to the early resolution of straightforward complaints.
- We published practice directions that set out clear guidelines on aspects of our processes.
Summary of caseload, 2008-2009 and 2009-2010
|Requester-initiated complaints||Commissioner-initiated complaints||Total|
|Complaints carried over from the previous year||2,293||2,513||0||1||2,293||2,514|
|Total complaints to investigate||4,283||4,166||1||37||4,284||4,203|
|Complaints completed with findings||1,118||1,516||0||34||1,118||1,550|
|Total complaints closed||1,770||2,091||0||34||1,770||2,125|
|Complaints pending at year-end||2,513||2,075**||1||3||2,514||2,078|
|Report cards completed||10||24|
*We stopped using this category in June 2008; these 28 complaints were cancelled before that change was made.
**127 of these complaints are on hold awaiting the outcome of litigation.
Outcome of complaints closed in 2009-2010, by type
Resolved: 71%; not substantiated: 5%; discontinued: 24%
Resolved: 42%; not substantiated: 33%; discontinued: 25%
Resolved: 61%; not substantiated: 25%; discontinued: 14%
Resolved: 40%; not substantiated: 53%; discontinued: 7%
* One delay complaint was closed with a finding of well founded/not resolved
Effectively investigating to ensure requesters’ rights are respected
This year, we made full use of the investigative powers available to us under the Access to Information Act, and we did not hesitate to take strong action when required. We expressed our willingness to compel institutions to provide records required for our investigations. On a number of occasions, the Interim Information Commissioner sent formal recommendations to heads of institutions under section 37 of the Act. For the first time ever, she also referred a case to the Attorney General of Canada for review and possible prosecution. Chapter 2 provides examples to illustrate these strategies in action.
Taking stock of institutions new to the Access to Information Act
We reviewed the experience of institutions that became subject to the Act in 2006 and 2007, under the Federal Accountability Act (see Chapter 3). The distinctive features of these organizations (which include Crown corporations and officers of Parliament), as well as their newness, brought challenges as they developed access to information expertise and implemented significant administrative and cultural changes to achieve compliance. This resulted in an 80 percent increase in complaints in 2007-2008. Our subsequent investigations have shown the impact of setting up an access to information function and gaining experience working with the Act, since 85 percent of the complaints completed with a finding were found to have merit.
Shining a light on compliance
The most recent edition of our report cards, which we have been producing since 1999, evaluated the performance of 24 institutions in their compliance with the Access to Information Act (see Chapter 4). Eleven institutions performed reasonably well, while 13 performed below average or worse. Our report also shed light on the widespread problem of delays and their negative impact on Canada’s access to information regime. The report card process revealed two issues that directly contribute to such delays: consultations and the delegation of decision-making powers related to access.
Exploring fundamental points of Canadian access law
This year, our work in the courts led to progress on several ongoing cases that have an impact on our access to information regime. As described in Chapter 5, we continue to seek access to records held within ministers’ offices and the Privy Council Office, and we have begun a new case against the CBC to protect the reach of our investigative powers under the Access to Information Act. As always, we closely follow judicial reviews initiated by complainants, and we do not hesitate to become involved as needed.
Getting the message out about transparency and open government
This year, we spread the message of the importance of access to information, proactive disclosure and open government through numerous activities (see Chapter 6):
The Information Commissioner (in the persons of both the former Commissioner and the current Interim Commissioner) appeared five times before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.
We launched a new website that provides a broader range of functions to Canadians.
Canada’s 2009 Right to Know week celebrated the fundamental principles of freedom of information and featured prominent experts in the field.
Setting a good example
As demonstrated in Chapter 7, we received considerably fewer access requests (34) this year than previously and the Information Commissioner ad hoc completed all the investigations into complaints against us. We accomplished all our IM/IT goals for this year, and we added and completed some new projects and advanced the start of others that still have to come to fruition. Of particular note was our success identifying and re-purposing existing tools from elsewhere within the government. Our efforts to improve our financial management practices and governance were recognized in 2009-2010. We received a clean audit from the Office of the Auditor General.