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Annual Report to Parliament
on the Administration of the
Access to Information Act 2007–2008

Table of Contents

Introduction

This Annual Report to Parliament is for the 2007–2008 fiscal year, as required under subsections 72(1) and 72(2) of the Access to Information Act (ATIA).

Departmental Mandate

On behalf of the Government of Canada, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is Canada’s face and voice to the world, working to advance Canada’s political and economic interests in the international community as well as to apply Canadian experience to help address global issues.

The three leading areas of focus for the Department in 2007–2008 were Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, and greater engagement in the Americas as well as in emerging markets, with a particular emphasis on China and India. The Department manages Canada’s political, economic and cultural relations with other nations on a bilateral basis as well as through the international organizations to which Canada belongs. These include the World Trade Organization, the United Nations, the G8, the Commonwealth, La Francophonie, the Organization of American States, the Organisation for Economic Co–operation and Development (OECD) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The Department provides an assertive foreign policy that pursues Canadian interests, projects Canadian values and culture worldwide, and protects Canada’s security. It supplies business (trade and investment), passport and other services to Canadians travelling, working or doing business abroad. And it supports the international activities of federal, provincial and territorial partners at Canada’s missions around the world.

In 2007–2008, the Department had 11,965 Full–time Equivalents and its workforce is made up of three groups. First, Canada–based rotational staff, mainly Foreign Service officers, administrative support employees and information technology specialists, relocate regularly between headquarters and Canada’s missions abroad. Second, non–rotational staff work primarily at headquarters. Third, locally engaged staff work at missions abroad.

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Delegated Authorities

Under Section 73 the Act, the Minister’s authority is delegated to enable the Department to meet its legislated requirements as well as exercise its powers. Responsibility for all sections of the Act has been delegated to the Deputy Ministers, to the Corporate Secretary (formerly Director General of Executive Services) and to the Director of the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Division. (See Annex A)

Passport Canada, as a special operating agency, was at the time of preparing this report exploring the possibility of having its own full ATIP delegation authority in order to administer all Access to Information Act and Privacy Act matters as they relate to the management and delivery of passport services.

Organizational Structure

The Access to Information and Privacy Protection Division (“ATIP Office”) is responsible for the administration of the ATIA, including the processing of requests and consultations. The Director of the ATIP Office reports to the Corporate Secretary, who in turn reports to both the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Deputy Minister of International Trade.

Over the reporting period, the ATIP Office increased in size and restructured itself with the addition of twelve (12) new full–time equivalents in 2007–2008. The division now includes five teams of processing Analysts reporting to two Deputy Directors. The Deputy Directors and the Manager of Business Practices and Systems report to the Director.

Organisational chart as described above

Ongoing Challenges

Steps have been taken since 2004–2005 to strengthen the departmental capacity and compliance with the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act as well as related TBS policies. Given its mandate and various responsibilities at the international level, DFAIT plays a key consultation role under both Acts on behalf of other government departments (OGDs).

There are an ever increasing number of ATIP requests facing DFAIT. The expected workload for 2008–09 is based on the increase that the Department has experienced in the first half of this fiscal year in comparison with the same period in previous years. The expected number of requests for 2009–10 is based on the average annual increase of 13.2% above the expected 2008–09 numbers.

Of importance to note as well as is that recent comparisons with other government departments such as the RCMP, DND, Justice and Industry Canada show that DFAIT’s ATIP requests continue to increase at a greater rate.

The assessment of the ATIP Office’s workload at the end of fiscal 2007–2008 as well as its projected volume of new ATIP requests for 2008/2009 clearly demonstrates that even with its existing complement of 42 full–time equivalents (FTEs), this will not be enough to address the current and projected workload. Thus, the Department will continue to struggle in its attempts to meet legislative and TBS policy obligations.

Other challenges include:

  • There is an ever increasing level of complexity and sensitivity of ATIP requests facing DFAIT as well as parallel litigation (e.g., Arar, Afghanistan, Softwood Lumber and Iacobucci).
  • DFAIT has unique responsibilities under both Acts on behalf of other government departments (OGDs) and related TBS policies. DFAIT consults with foreign organizations abroad for OGDs that are processing requests for records originating from abroad. In fact, last year DFAIT processed even more requests for ATI consultations from OGDs (1025) than ATI requests for access to records under its control (736). This important role continues to put another heavy burden on the ATIP Division’s limited resources.
  • There is a limited pool of experienced ATIP analysts across the federal ATIP community and there are substantial time and cost implications for the Department to “grow its own” ATIP analysts.
  • There are significant IM/IT challenges within DFAIT, those of which are currently being studied.

Key Considerations

Improving compliance with the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act is a departmental priority, especially in light of growing requests to the Department for information related to the Government's key international priorities such as Afghanistan. As well, improved compliance and commitment to these legislative responsibilities has been identified as a Government of Canada priority, reflected in the following instruments:

  • Federal Accountability Act – commitment to openness, transparency and accountability of its program activities as it relates to the obligations under the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.

  • Management Accountability Framework (MAF). Effectiveness of Information Management Indicator (number 12) is: “Governance and management of information and records in a manner that supports the outcome of programs and services, operational needs and accountabilities, and the administration of the Privacy and Access to Information Acts.”

  • TBS policies on Access to Information and Privacy speak of the “quasi–constitutional” role played by ATIP and the importance of compliance to government accountability and the democratic process.

  • TBS Privacy Impact Assessment Policy was introduced in May 2002 and DFAIT must establish the required resources to ensure its compliance. In addition, as a result of TBS’ 2005 Management of Information Technology Security (MITS) requirements, DFAIT must ensure the security of information and information technology (IT) assets which includes the requirement to prepare Privacy Impact Assessments for most of its systems.

Services for Canadians comprise one of three strategic outcomes under the Department’s Program Activity Architecture (PAA). ATIP is one of the key services provided to the general public by the Department in Canada, and better service requires improved compliance with the relevant Acts. Furthermore, given the additional function of the departmental ATIP office of consulting foreign governments on the release of information originating with them, there is a major component of ATIP implementation that includes managing our international relationships and ensuring partners that their information is managed appropriately.

Since 1998, DFAIT’s performance under the Access to Information Act has been scrutinized closely by the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) due to poor departmental compliance of the Act’s prescribed time limits. The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics also followed DFAIT’s ATIP performance closely in the last fiscal year.

Administration of Requests

The following section explains in more detail the TBS statistical report as provided in Annex B.

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Access to Information Requests

Between April 1, 2007 and March 31, 2008, the Department received seven hundred and thirty–six (736) requests for information under the Access to Information Act. Along with those new requests received, two hundred and sixty–four (264) requests were carried over from the previous fiscal year, for a total of one thousand (1000) requests.

Since the 1995–1996 fiscal year, the number of requests submitted to the Department has been increasing at an average annual rate of 11.2%. In 2007–2008, the number of ATIA requests received by DFAIT increased by 13.6%.

During the reporting period, five hundred and forty–one (541) requests were completed and four hundred and fifty–nine (459) still active files were carried over to the next reporting period.

Requestor Sources

The Access to Information requests received during this reporting period break down as follows

Media277
Academia16
Business67
Organizations91
Public285
Total736

Disposition of Completed Requests

The distribution of completed requests is as follows:

All disclosed68
Disclosed in part206
Nothing disclosed (excluded)3
Nothing disclosed (exempt)3
Transferred14
Unable to process133
Abandoned by applicant108
Treated informally6

Exemptions and Exclusions

The exemptions most commonly used by the Department during the period were sub–sections 15(1) [foreign affairs and national defence] and 19(1) [personal information] as well as paragraphs 21(1)(a) [advice] and 21(1)(b) [consultations and deliberations]. These were invoked for 166, 167, 112 and 95 requests, respectively.

The Department has also applied exclusions under sub–section 69(1) [confidences of cabinet] for 39 requests.

Extensions

During the reporting period, the Department claimed extensions pursuant to paragraphs 9(1)(a), 9(1)(b) and 9(1)(c):196, 128 and 12 times, respectfully. (See Figure 6)

Fees and Costs

For the reporting period, the Department collected $98,427.30 in fees, and waived $2,180.20 in fees. This represents a significant increase in the amount of fees collected when compared to previous years. In January of 2008, the Department instituted the process of charging preparation fees in accordance with the ATIA and associated Regulations.

Consultations Received From Other Institutions

When a request contains records that are of a greater interest to another institution, the ATIP Office of that institution is consulted.

Given its mandate and various responsibilities at the international level, DFAIT plays a key role in its responsibilities under the ATIA on behalf of other government departments (OGDs). More specifically, DFAIT consults with foreign organizations abroad for other federal government institutions that are processing requests for records originating from abroad.

Between April 1, 2007 and March 31, 2008, the Department received one thousand and twenty–five (1025) consultations from other government institutions. In fact, last year DFAIT received even more requests for ATI consultations (1025) than ATI requests for access to records under its control (736). This important role continues to put a heavy burden on the ATIP Division’s limited resources. Most of these originate from federal institutions subject to the Access to Information Act. However, a small percentage of consultations originate from provincial institutions and foreign government.

The number of consultations received by the Department has been increasing at an average annual rate of 17.4% since the 1995–1996 fiscal year. In 2007–2008, the number of ATIA consultations received by DFAIT from other government institutions increased by 37%.

During the reporting period, eight hundred and sixty–seven (867) consultations were completed representing 78,538 pages.

Consultations with Other Institutions

In return, DFAIT consulted other government institutions the following number of times during the reporting period.

Other Federal Governments248
Privy Council Office (Cabinet Confidences)28
Provincial Institutions or Municipalities7
Foreign Governments or Institutions of States43
Total326

Complaints and Investigations

Complaints Received and Completed

During the reporting period, sixty–six (66) complaints against the Department were filed with the Information Commissioner of Canada.

Reason for Complaint
Delay19
Extension23
Refusal – Exemptions19
Refusal – General3
Miscellaneous2

Fifty–two (52) investigations were completed during the reporting period.

FindingResult
Discontinued2No Action Required51
Not substantiated13Remedial Action Taken1
Resolved37  
Well Founded0  

Federal Court

During this reporting period, Professor Amir Attaran brought a case against DFAIT before the Federal Court (T–2257–07) relating to the exemptions invoked under the Access to Information Act to an internal report entitled “Afghanistan 2006: Good Governance, Democratic Development and Human Rights”. The applicant was not satisfied with DFAIT’s rationale for withholding portions of the report nor the Information Commissioner’s findings in November 2007 which supported some of the severances invoked under sections 13, 15 and 17 of the ATIA. The court case is ongoing.

Issues Raised by Agents of Parliament

DFAIT was once again one of ten institutions selected by the Information Commissioner of Canada for its yearly Report Card. While DFAIT was not privy at the time of writing this Annual Report to the specific ratings it was to receive for its performance in 2007–2008, partly due to the fact that the Commissioner changed its rating scales (from an A to F scheme to a 5–star rating scale), it is expected that DFAIT will continue to be criticized for not doing enough to meet legislative demands. For example, the Commissioner will no doubt once again recommend that the necessary adequate resources be put in place to ensure that Canadians’ rights of access are respected.

DFAIT was not the subject of any audit or review by other agents of Parliament in relation to the administration of the ATIA during the reporting period. However, of importance to note is DFAIT’s appearance in the Spring of 2007 before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (“ETHI Committee”) and the resulting Government Response to the Fourth Report of the ETHI Committee which recommended various improvements to the Government’s access to information regime.

More specifically, in April and May 2007, newspaper reports criticized DFAIT for its poor performance in responding to requests made under the Access to Information Act to obtain an internal report entitled “Afghanistan 2006: Good Governance, Democratic Development and Human Rights”. This led the ETHI Committee to undertake a series of meetings to study the manner in which these requests had been handled by DFAIT. The ETHI Committee’s Fourth Report, which was tabled on April 2, 2008, included five recommendations to improve the access to information regime. None of the recommendations were specifically directed at DFAIT. Three were directed to the Treasury Board Secretariat as they relate to government–wide ATIP policies, guidelines and training. One recommendation was directed to the Department of Justice as it relates to legislative reform and the other to the Privy Council Office as it relates to public servants’ roles and responsibilities when appearing before Parliamentary committees. DFAIT supported the recommendations made by the ETHI Committee.

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Internal Operations

Training and Development

During 2007–2008, the ATIP Office ensured that all ATIP Analysts regardless of their years of experience received the necessary training and tools to do their job effectively. In addition, each Analyst in the ATIP Office now has a dedicated mentor/coach (a.k.a. Team Leader) whose primary responsibilities is to ensure that there is a continuous and positive learning environment for their proper development as ATIP specialists. Also, Individual Learning Plans were developed in consultation with each employee within the ATIP Office to ensure that all training and development needs have been addressed.

The ATIP Office also developed a Professional Development Program in order to “grow its own” ATIP Analysts from within DFAIT since the federal ATIP Community is starving for experienced ATIP Analysts. Such a program will also improve overall retention and succession planning.

While ATIP Awareness sessions have been given to departmental officials over the years, the ATIP Division initiated the implementation of a structured and departmental–wide ATIP awareness program to ensure that officials across the Department understand their roles and responsibilities vis–à–vis ATIP. The ATIP Office also initiated the development of an on–line ATIP tutorial for the departmental Intranet site. The ATIP Office has also been developing a more in–depth hands–on training program for ATIP Liaison Officers across the Department.

Departmental Process

In 2007–2008, the ATIP Office initiated the implementation of a streamlined ATIP tasking process that was instituted across DFAIT in October 2008. This single gateway into the program areas will provide for a common ATIP tracking system to improve efficiencies and to measure performance.

Internal Policies on the Application of the Act

In January 2008, the ATIP Office also instituted two processes in an attempt to address the heavy backlog situation. First, the ATIP Office sent out approximately 120 letters to applicants whose requests had been made some time ago and they were asked if there was still an interest in proceeding with their late requests. Also, since January 2008, the ATIP Office instituted the administration of preparation fees as authorized in the ATIA and its Regulations regardless if the requests were already late.

Inevitably, these two approaches raised concerns from certain clients vis–à–vis the ATIP Office’s intentions. While there were speculations that the ATIP Office was attempting to discourage its clients from exercising their rights of access, the truth of the matter is that the ATIP Office was simply putting forward all efforts to reduce the workload per analyst ratio in order to provide a better service to its clients. In fact, in the end, the ATIP Office was able to clear from its backlog almost 200,000 pages of documents that were either no longer of interest to applicants or that applicants decided to abandon or re–scope their requests following receipt of fee estimates.

These two exercises saved the Department considerable processing costs and brought the caseload to a more manageable level. It is important to note, however, that given the ever–increasing volume of ATIP requests facing DFAIT, there is still a backlog of late files but these have been tagged for completion by the end of fiscal 2008–2009 with the help of ATIP consultants as part of the backlog project.

In addition, it should be noted that the ATIP Office has a policy of waiving photocopy fees for those files where the release package is under 200 pages. Release packages in excess of 200 pages are provided free of charge on CD–ROM. This approach was determined to be more cost efficient for the ATIP office.

Ongoing Improvements

The following are improvements that have been made over the last year or so as well as ongoing initiatives to improve the overall ATIP function at DFAIT:

  • Continued to build a more stable and robust capacity within the departmental ATIP Division with the addition of 12 new full–time equivalents in 2007–2008. Improved recruitment and retention of ATIP personnel to build towards a more sustainable ATIP function for the long–term, including the development of a Professional Development Program for succession planning purposes. The majority of the positions were staffed from competitive processes and deployments. In addition, staff morale and commitment to the Department have improved. DFAIT is also advocating government–wide solutions to staffing such as more centralized recruitment of ATIP specialists.

  • Reduced the workload per analyst ratio with the addition of new staff and the continued use of consultants to help with the backlog. A revised case management strategy was implemented to align available resources to address the backlog as well as the current and expected workload.

  • Built a more structured training capacity for ATIP divisional staff drawing on both in–house and external ATIP educational programs. The ATIP Office now has two Deputy Directors, a Manager of Business Practices and Systems as well as five Team Leaders whose primary responsibilities are to ensure that all necessary training, mentoring and coaching is provided to divisional staff and that all the necessary tools are made available. Also updating the divisional policy and procedures manuals.

  • Ensured that the Foreign Affairs and International Trade sides of DFAIT now have an identical ATIP process.

  • Started to build a permanent policy capacity within the ATIP Division in order to ensure that the necessary resources are available to meet various ATIP–related TBS requirements such as: the Privacy Impact Assessment Policy. There is a significant volume of Privacy Impact Assessments that are currently being prepared to meet both the PIA Policy as well as TBS’ Management of Information Technology and Security (MITS) requirements. Other reporting requirements, that require extensive work by a Policy team, include annual ATIP reports to Parliament, annual statistical reports to TBS, Report Cards to the Information Commissioner of Canada as well as continuous updates to the departmental ATIP websites (Intranet and Internet), all of which have a direct impact on MAF results.

  • Submitted to TBS in June 2008 an update to the annual publication InfoSource after almost 7 years of neglect due to lack of resources within the ATIP Division, which will no doubt improve compliance with Indicator #12 of the MAF. Given the extent of the work required due to years of neglect, TBS accepted that DFAIT start as a first phase in 2008 by aligning its InfoSource chapter with DFAIT’s current Program Activity Architecture as well as primary program holdings. The next phase of the update in 2009 will be an in–depth review of all its information holdings including all personal information banks.

  • Another long overdue project that saw fruition very recently is DFAIT’s Internet ATIP website which was completely revamped and updated. For example, as required by TBS’ Privacy Impact Assessment Policy, the website now includes summaries of Privacy Impact Assessments that were completed by DFAIT over the last six years since the Policy was in effect in May 2002.

  • Created a departmental IM/IT/ATIP Working Group to address various issues within DFAIT relating to information management and technology. For example, the ATIP Office’s inability to liaise with all DFAIT clientele in an efficient and effective manner on the secure network and thus an over–reliance on hardcopy versus obtaining records electronically.

  • Initiated the introduction of a streamlined ATIP tasking process across DFAIT with designated ATIP Liaison Officers for a single gateway into all the Bureaux and ADM Offices. This in turn provides a much–improved ATIP tracking system in order to measure performance and to gain ATIP efficiencies.

  • Introduced monthly ATIP performance reports to senior management, which in turn will improve overall departmental understanding and commitment to ATIP compliance.

  • Initiated the implementation of a structured and departmental–wide ATIP awareness program to ensure that officials across the Department understand their roles and responsibilities vis–à–vis ATIP. Preliminary steps have also been taken to develop an on–line ATIP tutorial for the departmental Intranet site.

  • The Corporate Secretariat has also planned to hire a consultant with expertise in business processes to further examine the ATIP function at DFAIT in order to provide recommendations for additional improvements to the overall ATIP program activity.

  • And finally, the ATIP Office will also develop another Business Case in the hope of securing additional funding to ensure that the required permanent resources are in place which would result in:

    • sustainable departmental ATIP capacity to support legislative and TBS policy obligations;
    • improved compliance of ATIP Acts and better performance (i.e., timely responses in terms of 80% or better);
    • significant reduction of the long–term use of expensive ATIP consultants;
    • stable and reliable source of ATIP expertise resulting in better informed departmental officials and a culture that understands and values the departmental commitment to openness and transparency;
    • effective succession planning by gaining and retaining in–house ATIP expertise;
    • more timely external ATIP consultations with other government institutions and with other jurisdictions;
    • better service to stakeholders and clients;
    • a less stressful and taxing working environment for the current under–resourced staff; and
    • a more efficient and effective streamlined ATIP process within DFAIT.

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Date Modified:
2012-02-14