Our work during 2012–2013 investigating complaints from Canadians about institutions’ handling of their access to information requests was shaped by a 9-percent increase in the number of complaints we received compared to the year before. We also saw the number of new administrative complaints increase by 42 percent from 2011–2012.
This development is a sign of clear deterioration in the access to information system and indicates that institutions are having difficulty meeting even their basic obligations under the Access to Information Act, such as adhering to the legislative deadlines for responding to requests or following proper procedures for taking time extensions.
Overall, we closed 1,622 files in 2012–2013, slightly more than we received and 8-percent more than we completed in 2011–2012. For the fourth year in a row we were able to make a dent in our inventory, which we have reduced by 28.6 percent since April 1, 2009. We have closed an average of 1,824 files annually from 2009–2010 to 2012–2013.
We were also able to achieve significant improvement in our turnaround times for the complaints we closed in 2012–2013. We reduced the overall average turnaround time from 432 days to 380, while the median turnaround time (representing the typical service complainants can expect) dropped to 215 days, down from 276 in 2011–2012. From the date we assign files to investigators, the median turnaround time was 86 days, a decrease from 91 in 2011–2012.
A seven-month gap between the median turnaround for our most complex cases (refusal complaints) measuring from when we register complaints and from when we can assign them to investigators reflects the fact that we are unable to assign these files immediately upon receiving them. We simply do not have the staff to do so. Consequently, the only way we will be able to continue to make any significant gains in productivity is by receiving more resources to allow us to augment our investigative team.
Beyond our resource restraints, changes in the overall environment in which we work, such as how government business is carried out, including through shared service initiatives, and the advent of open government, present new challenges for us as we help ensure the rights conferred by the Access to Information Act are respected. Compounding these challenges, however, is the fact that Canada’s access law is becoming increasingly outmoded. This once state-of-the-art law has fallen behind legislative innovations at the provincial and international levels.
To provide Parliament with recommendations for modernizing the Act, the Commissioner began seeking feedback in September 2012 on long-time concerns about the Act, such as its scope and coverage, and the potential role of penalties to respond to instances of non-compliance. The consultation yielded wide-ranging submissions from 44 groups. We are analyzing this feedback, along with previous studies and recommendations for reform. This input, together with the in-depth knowledge gained from our investigations, will allow us to provide our unique and fully formed view on how the Act should be amended at this juncture and the benefits such changes would bring to transparency and accountability in the federal sphere. We will issue our reform proposals to Parliament in the fall of 2013.