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Access to Information Act

Prepared by:
Audit Services Canada from Public Works and Government Services Canada

The criteria used to assess compliance with the Access to Information Act and our related findings and recommendations are detailed below.

Criterion 1-1 — The Department responds to requests accurately and completely, providing timely access to records in the format requested.

As a result of our document review and interviews, we found that:

  1. The Department developed policies and procedures for processing requests for access to records under the Access to Information Act to allow the Department to respond to requests accurately and completely and provide timely access to records in the format requested.
  2. The policies and procedures make level-3 managers (and higher) responsible for providing accurate and complete information in response to a request. The responsible manager must complete an Access to Information Response form, confirming that the records provided are complete and accurate; that records can be released in their entirety; identifying areas that may require exemptions; and indicating if there are no records available.
  3. The policies and procedures make the ATIP officer responsible for administration of the request for records. They prepare a detailed request for the ATIP liaison officer and, when the records are returned, the ATIP officers verify that the records are responsive to the request and apply exemptions in accordance with the Act, where required. Once the ATIP officer is satisfied that the request is complete, the records and a letter are sent to the requester with the goal of meeting the 30-day requirement stipulated in the Act. The Department’s procedures are similar to the general ATIP process outlined at Appendix D.
  4. Each area within the Department has its own ATIP liaison officer(s) and requests can require several liaison officers to obtain records identified. For example, requests concerning the Department’s hospital required that the liaison officers in various areas of the hospital be contacted to retrieve records required. We noted one such request that took 174 days to complete as the ATIP officer contacted each area repeatedly to make certain the information provided was complete.
  5. The Department has tools to help ensure the institutions are completing requests accurately, completely, and that access is provided on time. Examples of tools the Department uses include:
    • Action checklist – used on all ATI request files where the ATIP officer records the requester, case file number, due date of the request, and ATIP officer responsible. It also requires ATIP officers to confirm they have created an acknowledgement or transfer letter, identified what institutions may have records related to the request, other types of records that might be associated with the request, file email messages, and updated the AccessPro Case Management System, which is the electronic system used by the ATIP coordinator to track all activities related to a request.
    • Access to information response form – requires level-3 managers, or higher, to sign-off that the records provided by the ATIP liaison officer to the ATIP officer are complete and accurate. This is to ensure that the manager is aware of the request and that all records related to the request were provided.
    • Impact statement – requires the exemptions being applied to include a rationale supporting the recommended exemption cited in the Act.
  6. There were 69 access to information requests outstanding in 2010-11 that were carried forward to 2011-12.

Criterion 1-2 — The Department twice a year confirms that its list of records and manuals is accurate, complete, and up to date.

As a result of our document review and interviews, we found that:

  1. Annually, the Department is required to publish a description of its organization, responsibilities, programs and activities, the classes of records under its control, the personal information found within those classes of information, a list of the manuals used by employees in administering or carrying out institutional programs, and activities that affect the public; and a contact for access to information and privacy requests. The information is published in a legislated publication titled Info Source, a Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat website, that’s primary purpose is to assist individuals exercise their rights under the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.
  2. The Department submitted information to the Treasury Board Secretariat during the year to update the publications listed on Info Source.

Criterion 1-3 — The Department responds to requests for access to records as required and within the stipulated timelines.

As a result of our document review and interviews, we found that:

  1. The Access to Information Act requires the Department to notify the requester in writing whether they will be given access to the records and to provide access within 30 days of receipt of the request. The Department sends an acknowledgement letter notifying the requester that the Department has received the request and has begun work on completing the request.
  2. For purposes of understanding and assessing the process, we reviewed three requests submitted under the Access to information Act and found:
    • The Department telephoned one requester the day the request was received to clarify the records being requested. This resulted in the Department notifying the requester that they did not need to make a request under the Access to Information Act to obtain the records they were seeking. The ATIP officer referred them to the National Client Contact Centre.
    • The Department answered one request within six days of its receipt.
    • The Department completed one request more than 150 days after the initial request was received. Consultation with another government department was required before the request could be completed. A letter was sent to the client notifying them that it would take more time to complete the request due to the nature of the records being requested. The letter notified the requester that they were entitled to contact the Information Commissioner and file a complaint.
  3. The 2010–11 draft of the Annual Report on the Administration of the Access to Information Act indicated the Department responded to 60 percent of requests within 30 days of their receipt and, on files where an extension was taken, 73 percent of requests were completed on time. The Department received 148 formal requests which is a 7 percent increase over the previous year.

Criterion 1-4 — The Department applies exemptions to the disclosure of records in accordance with the Act.

As a result of our document review and interviews, we found that:

  1. For purposes of understanding and assessing the process, we reviewed three requests submitted under the Access to Information Act and found that the Department applied exemptions to one of the requests. The sections cited in the file were:
    • 19(1) – information was redacted because it contained personal information of an individual other than the requester;
    • 21(1)(b) – information was redacted because it related to an account of consultation and debriefings involving officers or employees of a government institution; and
    • 23 – information was redacted because it was subjected to solicitor-client privilege.
  2. The 2010–11 draft Annual Report on the Administration of the Access to Information Act identified 111 cases where formal requests had exemptions applied. These included the sections mentioned above as well as sections 14, 15, 16, 18, 20 and 22 of the Access to Information Act.
  3. The Policy and Procedures for the Processing of requests for Access to Records and Personal Information under the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act provides guidelines on the application of exemptions under the Access to Information Act. The authority to apply the exemptions as outlined in the delegation of authority rests with the ATIP officer. However, an institution providing records is required to review the records and highlight the information they recommend exemptions be applied to. The ATIP officer decides whether the information highlighted requires exemption, and if other parts of the records also require exemption. The Department also requires that an impact statement form be completed by the providing department justifying the reason for the disclosure or protection of the information.

Criterion 1-5 — The Department provides third parties with notice that it intends to disclose a record.

As a result of our document review and interviews, we found that:

  1. The Department uses a standard letter to notify third parties of its intent to disclose a record. The letter states, ‘Although we have reason to believe that these records may contain third-party information as described in Section 20(1) of the Access to Information Act, we do not have sufficient information in our files to substantiate this. Thus, as required by the Act, we intend to disclose the records on (date)…If you have any concerns with the disclosure of these records, please make written representations to the undersigned as to why portions of the records should not be disclosed. If you have not responded by (Date), the records will be disclosed.’ We found that the need to notify third parties occurs infrequently.

Criterion 1-6 — The Department prepares an annual report on the administration of the Act to be tabled in Parliament within three months of year end.

As a result of our document review and interviews, we found that:

  1. The Department prepared its 2010–11 Annual Report on the Administration of the Access to Information Act in May 2011. The Report must be submitted to each House of Parliament within three months from the financial year end or, if Parliament is not sitting, within 15 days of the next session. At the time of our report completion, the deadline had not passed and the Report had not been submitted.
  2. The 2009–10 annual Report was deposited with the Clerk of the House October 19, 2010. The House was not sitting the end of June when the Report was due and it resumed its session September 20, 2010. The Report was submitted 29 days after the House returned for the third session of the 40th Parliament.
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