Stretching from Ottawa to Missions around the globe, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) holds a particular and sometimes difficult mandate, rendering the role of the ATIP office equally wide-ranging and complex.
Requests in 2002-2003 covered a great array of subjects: immediate political events, consular cases (Canadians in trouble overseas), NAFTA, financial questions, import and export problems, trade issues of all sorts, Canadian relations with various countries, passport information, personnel questions, ministerial and ambassadorial expenses, diplomatic immunity, grants and contributions and many others.
One demanding and unusual example was that of 61 requests received from a single requester on a single day, for all records in the e-mail systems of a wide variety of employees within the Department, requiring an immediate and considerable effort on the part of the ATIP office, and one which is expected to continue for more than a year.
Officers and staff move frequently in this Department, from assignments at Headquarters to positions at Canadian missions abroad and back, and it is up to the ATIP office to ensure that continuity of information and awareness of the legal obligations imposed by the Act are preserved. Raising awareness of the two Acts among colleagues is an important objective, and good working relationships with Offices of Primary Interest (OPIs) have allowed the ATIP office to implement a variety of training tools. In an era of exponentially-increasing information flow, DFAIT, like other departments, is revising its records management and information storage systems. In this context, the ATIP office is working hard to remind officers of the importance of good record and information management and encouraging colleagues to record and save all records related to their work.
Given the ever-increasing overall number of requests (see chart, covering fiscal years 1998-2003, on page 12), consultation requests and total number of pages reviewed (see chart on page 11), it has been a priority to increase the efficiency of the ATIP office. The new Procedures Manual has proved a useful tool, and has been updated regularly over the course of the year.
During this fiscal year, requesters (see chart on page 13) were most frequently members of the media, followed by businesses, with a surge in demands this year. This reflects the interest of Canadians in the work of this Department, and its involvement in many key issues of concern to the public and the business community.
Beginning in 1999, the Information Commissioner of Canada introduced a new approach to monitoring the work of federal departments. This Department, along with others, was chosen as a focus of scrutiny and has continued to be subject to this review annually. During the period April 1 - November 30, 2002, the Information Commissioner gave the Department an improved grade, recognizing the increase in requests completed on time.
1. The Director of the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Division (the ATIP Office of the Department) has been delegated full authority to exercise the powers of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.
2. The ATIP Director reports to the Director General of the Executive Services Bureau. In addition to the ATIP Director, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Deputy Minister for International Trade, and the Director General of the Executive Services Bureau are also designated with full powers, and all Heads of Mission are designated to act under Section 8(2)(m) of the Privacy Act.
3. In addition to the Director, the ATIP Office has a complement of six officers, three support staff and various consultants, all of whom are dedicated to access, privacy and directly related issues on a full-time basis. All are ATIP specialists, not available for appointment to positions abroad, although fully half the officers have had considerable overseas experience. This reflects an appropriate balance between the need for continuity in managing an ever-expanding ATIP workload and detailed practical knowledge of the policies and working practices of a large and multifaceted Department.
4. The estimates of salary and operations for the ATIP Office found in the statistical record included in this report combine figures for operations under both the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act since a breakdown for each Act is not practical.
1. Developing, co-ordinating and implementing effective policies, guidelines and procedures to manage the Department's compliance with both Acts.
2. Monitoring departmental compliance with both Acts, accompanying regulations and relevant procedures and policies; all requests submitted to the Department within Canada or at Canadian missions abroad are replied to by the ATIP Office in Ottawa.
3. Promoting awareness of both Acts through briefings and guidance to departmental units on compliance with the legislation.
4. Responding to requests for release of personal information to federal investigative agencies under Section 8(2)(e) of the Privacy Act.
5. Consulting with foreign governments, on behalf of other government departments, through Canadian posts abroad or resident foreign missions in Canada.
6. Handling requests by foreign governments regarding the declassification and disclosure of Canadian documents.
7. Collecting, under various legislative authorities or otherwise, commercial information in confidence from Canadian companies operating abroad or dealing with foreign governments. In the event of requests for such information, the Department, if it determines it has no substantive interest in the information, will undertake appropriate notification or consultation with interested parties before considering disclosure of any records.
8. Screening departmental records prior to transfer to the National Archives.
Due to the international role of DFAIT, the Department faces special challenges in the administration of the ATIP legislation. The interests of other states and international organizations would be seriously affected were sensitive information released inappropriately. If such information is not properly protected, significant damage could result - not only in respect of Canada’s relations with the affected party, but with others who may be less forthcoming in future matters of interest to Canadians.
The broad rule on state-to-state relations, and Canadian participation in deliberations of international organizations or multilateral bodies, is that communications between and among governments are private. The Canadian legislation, designed for domestic circumstances, must therefore be applied judiciously to retain the trust of other governments and organizations with which Canada deals. Similarly, DFAIT holds data and information provided, usually in confidence, by provincial governments in Canada, by other federal departments and by the Canadian business sector.
The Canadian government holds records and information received in confidence from foreign governments and international organizations. Other federal government institutions are mandated to solicit the assistance of the Department in determining the extent to which documents were obtained in confidence or the extent to which disclosure of information would be injurious to the conduct of Canada’s international affairs. These consultations can be lengthy and complex. The ATIP Office is responsible for consultations with foreign governments and international organizations, which are normally undertaken through Canadian posts abroad or, at times, through foreign missions resident in Canada. The Department also collects, under various legislative authorities or otherwise, an appreciable amount of commercial information obtained in confidence from Canadian companies operating abroad. In the event of requests for such information, the Department, if it determines it has no substantive interest in the information, will undertake appropriate notification or consultation with interested third parties before disclosing records.
The ATIP Office processed 174 requests for disclosure of personal information under Section 8(2)(e) of the Privacy Act. This is a significant increase (26%) over the last fiscal year.
This unique program allows the department to release records that facilitate research access to greater volumes of information concerning Canada’s conduct of international relations. In 2002- 2003, the ATIP office screened some 118,000 pages of historical departmental records prior to transfer to the National Archives. The screening program started later than usual this year, and this is reflected in the lower overall number of pages screened. However, it is expected that the number will more than double in the next fiscal year.
This program provides an avenue for academics and serious researchers who seek access to records held by the Department in order to carry out to their work. With the assistance of departmental divisions, access to records held by the Department is expedited outside the formal framework of the Access to Information Act while ensuring that sensitive information remains protected.
The ATIP Office responded to a number of requests for informal access to information. Informal requests are also addressed to divisions within the Department, the Media Relations Office, the main departmental library which is located on the main floor of the building for enhanced public access, or to missions abroad. Departmental officers are encouraged to consider responding to informal requests for information. An ATIP website is also maintained, where descriptions of requests are placed once processing has been finalized, to allow the public to see what has been previously released.
A reading room is available adjacent to the ATIP Office. Current departmental manuals and other documents are available to members of the public and requesters who wish to examine material being disclosed, rather than paying photocopying fees.
Both the number of access to information requests and requests to the Department for personal information have continued to increase rapidly, as have the number of consultation requests from other departments and foreign governments. It is anticipated that interest in information held by the Department will continue to grow as public awareness also increases.
Implementation of Treasury Board’s policy on Personal Information Assessments, which came into effect on May 1, 2002, has already begun to have a significant impact on many parts of the Department and on the ATIP office, and it is likely that this impact will continue.
The Department also faces certain challenges that may not affect other federal departments, including:
1. the need to obtain documents held at diplomatic missions overseas in order to respond to requests
2. the high volume of cases requiring consultation with third parties and other governments and international organizations or multilateral bodies
3. the complexity and sensitivity of requests received
Furthermore, given the nature of the Department’s work, employees must often deal rapidly with urgent international crises. Thus, the Department must regularly balance the competing priorities of response to an urgent situation on the one hand with requests for access to information on the other.
The Information Commissioner’s annual report card assessment for the period April 1 November 30, 2002, gave the ATIP office of the Department a “B” grade, following a “D” for the complete previous year and an “F” for each of the three complete previous years.
Over the course of the last fiscal year, the ATIP office reviewed 168,077 pages of information in all, of which 103,067 in response to access to information requests, 6,992 to requests for personal information, and 58,018 to consultation requests. This overall total was up from 159,150 last year, an increase of 5.6%. 39,333 pages in all were released in 2002-2003, representing 35.7% of the pages reviewed in the context of both access requests and requests for personal information, a slight decrease from last year’s 36.3%. 33,001 pages were released in response to access requests and 6,332 in response to requests for personal information. The number of pages reviewed in response to requests for personal information increased by 39% in comparison to the previous fiscal year.
The complete statistical report can be found at the end of this report, as Annex A.
During fiscal year 2002-2003, DFAIT received 529 new requests pursuant to the Access to Information Act, an increase of 7%. 143 requests were carried over from the previous reporting year. Of these 672 requests, 461 were completed during the period of this report and 211 were carried forward. 208 requests were completed in 30 days or less and a further 53 were completed in less than 60 days. The remainder (200) required more than 60 days to complete.
The disposition of the completed requests is as follows:
The statistical report does not reflect consultation requests, of which the department received 540 from other departments and oher governments, an increase from last year’s 526.
The following summary description of requesters does not necessarily describe the persons to whom the released documents are destined. The breakdown is as follows:
Requests from members of the media decreased by 16%, from the public by 23% (a striking difference from last year) and from organizations by 7.5%; requests from businesses, on the other hand, rose dramatically by over 250% and those from academics by 237%, though the actual numbers were small.
Of the 54 complaints received during the year by the two Commissioners' Offices concerning the Department (compared to 48 in the previous year), 48 were under the Access to Information Act.
None of the complaints under the Access to Information Act concerned delays (down from six in the previous year). Upon investigation, 12 of the access to information complaints were considered to be resolved, four were judged to be not substantiated and six were discontinued.
During 2002-2003, no new applications were filed pursuant to section 41 of the Access to Information Act. However, two applications were still under consideration.
The complete statistical report can be found at the end of this report, as Annex B.
During the fiscal year 2002-2003, 120 Privacy requests were received by the Department, an increase of 10%. 21 requests were carried over from the previous reporting year. Of these 141 requests, 132, representing 93.6%, were completed during the reporting year, an improvement of 10% over the previous fiscal year.
The disposition of the completed requests is as follows:
96 of the completed requests were answered within 30 days, 29 took up to 60 days and seven exceeded 60 days.
Of the 54 complaints received during the year by the two Commissioners' Offices concerning the Department (compared to 48 the previous year), six were under the Privacy Act.
None of the complaints under the Privacy Act concerned delay (down from four the previous year). Only one complaint was completed and it was considered not substantiated.
No requests for correction of information held by the Department were received during the period of this report.
Treasury Board’s policy on Privacy Impact Assessments came into effect on May 1, 2002, and work is under way in many program areas to prepare assessments. The ATIP Office has been participating fully in this work, and the impact on the office has already been considerable. As the Department attempts to balance security interests and privacy issues, it is probable that pressures on the ATIP office will continue to increase.
There has been no change since the last report. Employees of the Department continue to be able to have access to personnel files on an informal basis, usually without recourse to the ATIP Office. Requests from individuals have been handled as expeditiously as possible, formally and informally.
174 requests for disclosure under Section 8(2)(e) of the Privacy Act were received by the Department from federal investigative bodies and all were processed in accordance with the Act. This is an increase of 26%, following a drop of 22% the year before.
The Department was approached by Health Canada to provide the locator information of individuals who might have been exposed to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The Office of the Privacy Commissioner was advised, and the latter concurred in the release of this information under Section 8(2)(m) of the Privacy Act. This is the first time this Department has received a request of this sort.
As the Department controls only a limited number of Personal Information Banks, the implementation of the Use and Disclosure code with respect to personal information has not been a problem.
The Federal Court received no new applications during fiscal year 2002-2003.