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Foreign Affairs Canada

Annual Reports on the Administration of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act

2003-2004

Copies of this document may be obtained from:

Access to Information and Privacy Protection Division
International Trade Canada
Lester B. Pearson Building
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2

This publication can be made available on computer diskette, compact disk, in large print or on audio cassette upon request.

Enquiries about this document may be directed to:

Access to Information and Privacy Protection Division
International Trade Canada
Lester B. Pearson Building
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2
Tel: (613) 992-1425
FAX: (613) 995-0116

PART I – INTRODUCTION

THE ROLE AND MANDATE OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CANADA

Foreign Affairs Canada (FAC) has the primary responsibility for the promotion and protection of Canada’s interests abroad and the conduct of Canada’s relations with other countries. It promotes peace, prosperity and Canadian values around the world. The mandate of the department is as follows:

  • conducting all diplomatic and consular relations on behalf of Canada;
  • conducting all official communication between the Government of Canada and
  • the government of any other country and between the Government of Canada and any international organization;
  • conducting and managing international negotiations as they relate to Canada;
  • coordinating the direction given by the Government of Canada to the heads of Canada's diplomatic and consular missions and to manage these missions;
  • administering the foreign service of Canada; and
  • fostering the development of international law and its application in Canada's external relations.

It also offers travel assistance and passport services to Canadians, at home and abroad.

THE ORGANIZATION OF THE DEPARTMENT

A significant change in government machinery was made in December 2003, separating the former Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) into two organizations: Foreign Affairs Canada (FAC) and International Trade Canada (ITCan). This announcement has had implications for the administration of Access and Privacy responsibilities for both institutions.

This report covers the fiscal year 2003-2004, a period in which the now separate departments were operating as one organization until December 12, 2003, and Foreign Affairs Canada thereafter. This report does not include information about International Trade Canada, which has issued its own annual report to Parliament.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs is supported by the Minister of International Cooperation (Canadian International Development Agency), the Minister responsible for La Francophonie and by a Parliamentary Secretary and another Parliamentary Secretary with special emphasis on Canada-U.S. relations. Moreover, the responsibilities of the Minister extends beyond the Department. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is also responsible for external organizations namely, the International Development Research Centre, which helps communities in developing countries address social, economic and environmental problems; the International Joint Commission, a Canada-U.S. body that manages and protects lake and river systems on the border between the two countries; and Rights & Democracy (the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development), an independent organization that promotes human rights and democratic processes and institutions.

The Passport Office is a special operating agency within Foreign Affairs Canada, reporting to the Deputy Minister.

ADMINISTRATION OF THE ACCESS AND PRIVACY FUNCTION

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.

The ATIP Director reports to the Director General of the Executive Services Bureau who, along with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, are also designated with full powers. All Heads of Mission are designated to act under Section 8(2)(m) of the Privacy Act.

As an interim measure during this transitional period, the ATIP Office will continue to process ATIP requests for both FAC and ITCan until such time as ITCan can fully accommodate and integrate this function within its operations, expected within the fiscal year 2004-2005.

During 2003-2004, the ATIP Office continued to provide training sessions for employees. These sessions provided 265 employees with an overview of the Acts and a better understanding of their obligations and the process within FAC. Customized sessions were also provided to divisional teams upon request.

PART II - ACCESS TO INFORMATION ACT

OVERVIEW

This report describes the administration of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act in the previous department up to December 12, 2003 and the new Foreign Affairs Canada from that date to March 31, 2004.

The reporting period has been particularly challenging for the administration of the ATIP function, for both departments.

Although the number of requests received over the past 3 years has remained relatively stable, the complexity of the requests has increased as has the number of pages being processed. Furthermore, the annual volume of consultations from other departments has increased to the point that they are now equivalent to the number of access requests processed. FAC continues to be required to meet obligations under the Privacy Act and has experienced an increase of requests. There are growing policy issues upon which the ATIP Office has been required to provide advice to departmental officials and senior management.

Since the commencement of the Information Commissioner Office’s annual review of FAC’s performance back in 1998, steps were taken to improve departmental capacity and to strengthen compliance with these statutes. This included some additional resources, streamlining of processes, training and renewed awareness of obligations. Although the departmental performance gradually improved to achieve substantial compliance in 2002 (Grade of B), it has regressed in 2003 to a Grade of D, which is below standard compliance.

In order to properly assess the elements which will have a direct impact on improved turnaround times, an independent review of the ATI function, Privacy function and historical/screening function was identified. This study will assist in identifying the human and financial resources elements along with the accommodation and technology requirements to support this function. This review will form the basis upon which key functional elements will be identified along with actions to be taken over a specific period to bring these functions in line with the objectives of the division, the directorate, the Department and the Government.

WORKLOAD

In 2003-2004, there were 490 Access to Information Act requests submitted to the Department. For a graphical account of the volume of requests received each year by the Department since 1998-1999, refer to Chart # 1 which follows:

Chart # 1: Access to Information Act Requests Received by FAC

1998 - 1999

1999 - 2000

2000 - 2001

2001 - 2002

2002 - 2003

2003 – 2004

386

561

437

496

529

490

The Department is also responsible for processing numerous consultation requests from other departments and other governments. For a graphical account of the volume of consultation requests received by the Department, refer to Chart # 2 which follows:

Chart # 2: Access to Information Act Consultations Received by FAC

1998 - 1999

1999 - 2000

2000 - 2001

2001 - 2002

2002 - 2003

2003 – 2004

263

332

421

526

540

562

 

STATISTICS

As indicated above, the Department received 490 new access requests in 2003-2004. When added to the 213 requests being carried forward from the previous fiscal year, this means that FAC was responsible for the processing of 713 requests during 2003-2004.

Despite this large volume, the Department was able to complete the processing of 575 requests, leaving only 128 requests to be carried over to next fiscal year, a considerable improvement.

Of the 490 requests received in 2003-2004, the most frequent type of requester was from the public (213) followed by the media (142), various types of organizations (107), business (20) and academia (8).

Of the 575 requests that were completed, full disclosure was provided for 51 requests, partial disclosure was provided for 159 requests, and all records were denied for 13 requests. Besides this, 145 requests were transferred to another department, the department was unable to process 1 request. Out of the 206 requests which were abandoned by the applicants much of the processing work had already been initiated for 145 of these case files. As for the remaining 61 cases, they dated back to 2002 and the applicants indicated their disinterest in the subject matter.

The three main reasons where access to information was denied related to either the operations of government (Section 21), personal information (Section 19) or international affairs (Section 15).

Of the 575 requests completed in 2003-2004, 274 requests were completed in 30 days or less, 65 requests were completed in between 31 and 60 days, 96 requests were completed in between 61 and 120 day, and 140 requests took more than 120 days to complete. The Department found it necessary to extend the time frame on 343 occasions to conduct large searches, to conduct external consultations and/or to complete third party notifications.

OTHER REQUESTS AND INFORMAL DISCLOSURES
Screening Program

The ATIP Office is responsible for screening Departmental records prior to transfer to the National Archives. This obligatory program allows the department to release records each year that facilitate research access to greater volumes of information concerning Canada’s conduct of international relations. In 2003-2004, the ATIP Office screened some 228,000 pages of historical departmental records prior to their transfer to the National Archives.

Historical Section - Informal Access Program

This program provides an avenue for academics and serious researchers who seek access to records held by the Department in order to carry out 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. A total of 17 requests were processed which involved over 4,300 pages of information.

Internal Requests for Advice

The ATIP Office also acted as a resource for FAC officials and offered advice and guidance on the provisions of the legislation. The ATIP Office was consulted on 64 departmental issues relating to a range of matters from surveys, questionnaires, memorandum of understanding, information sharing arrangements, records management, data bases, contracts, privacy caveats and human resources issues.

RESOURCES

For this transitional year, it was not possible to separate the resources utilized for the administration of the Access to Information Act from those utilized for the administration of the Privacy Act. In total, however, just under $800,000 was spent on the administration of the two Acts, and staffing amounted to 11 full-time equivalents.

SUMMARY

Given the complexities and sensitivities of the subject matter, the processing of Access to Information Act requests in the area of foreign affairs and international trade can often be a challenging matter. Nevertheless, the Department will continue to strive to meet its various responsibilities under the Act.

PART III - PRIVACY ACT

WORKLOAD

In 2003-2004, there were 148 Privacy Act requests submitted to the Department. For a graphical account of the volume of requests received each year by the Department since 1998-1999, refer to Chart # 3 which follows:

Chart # 3: Privacy Act Requests Received by FAC

1998 - 1999

1999 - 2000

2000 - 2001

2001 - 2002

2002 - 2003

2003 – 2004

61

76

118

109

120

148

STATISTICS

As indicated above, the Department received 148 new Privacy requests in 2003-2004. When added to the 13 requests being carried forward from the previous fiscal year, this means that FAC was responsible for the processing of 161 requests during 2003-2004.

The Department completed the processing of 140 requests during this reporting period, leaving 21 requests to be carried over to 2004-2005.

Of the 140 requests that were completed, full disclosure was provided for 63 requests, partial disclosure was provided for 45 requests, and all records were denied for 4 requests. Besides this, the department was unable to process 18 requests for various reasons and 10 requests were abandoned by applicants.

The three main reasons where access to information was denied related to either information about another individual (Section 26), law enforcement and investigation (Section 22) and international relations and defence (Section 21).

Of the 140 requests completed in 2003-2004, 95 requests were completed in 30 days or less, 35 requests were completed in between 31 and 60 days, 5 requests were completed in between 61 and 120 day, and 5 requests took more than 120 days to complete. Time extensions were invoked for 30 requests - 21 due to interference with operations and 9 for external consultations. All these extensions were for 30 or less.

DISCLOSURES UNDER S. 8(2) OF THE PRIVACY ACT

The ATIP Office processed 246 requests for disclosure of personal information under Section 8(2) of the Privacy Act. This is a significant increase (41%) over the last fiscal year.

PRIVACY IMPACT ASSESSMENTS

Treasury Board’s policy on Privacy Impact Assessments (PIA) 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 in the development of the following assessments: the Facial Recognition project, the Birth Certificate Verification project with the British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency and the Sharing Agreement with that agency. These projects are under the responsibility of the Passport Office and are on-going.

RESOURCES

For this transitional year, it was not possible to separate the resources utilized for the administration of the Privacy Act from those utilized for the administration of the Access to Information Act. In total however, just under $800,000 was spent on the administration of the two Acts, and staffing amounted to 11 full-time equivalents.

PART IV - ANNEXES

Annex A - Statistical Report on the Administration of the Access to Information Act

Annex B - Statistical Report on the Administration of the Privacy Act

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Date Modified:
2009-06-26