This Annual Report to Parliament is for the 2008–2009 fiscal year, as required under subsections 72(1) and 72(2) of the Access to Information Act (ATIA).
The Access to Information Act gives Canadian citizens and permanent residents as well as individuals and corporations present in Canada the right to seek access to federally controlled information and records.
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 Department's legal mandate, as set out in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act, RSC 1985, c. E–22, is to:
The Minister of Foreign Affairs is also responsible for the Export and Import Permits Act, RSC 1985, c. E–19, which authorizes the government to control and monitor the transborder flow of specified goods, and for the Special Economic Measures Act, 40–41 Elizabeth II, c. 17, which authorizes the government to apply economic sanctions in response to a serious threat to international peace and security.
The Department also provides administrative support to other government departments with personnel abroad.
The Department's focus in 2008–2009 was on four key priorities:
In 2008–2009, the Department had 12,975 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.
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. During the reporting period, responsibility for all sections of the Act was 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.
Near the end of the reporting period, DFAIT also initiated the process to update its delegation instrument in order to reflect the current administration and to further delegate the authority to sign off on access and privacy requests at the Deputy Director level as well. This will be attached as part of the next Annual Report to Parliament. In addition, Passport Canada as a special operating agency was at the time of drafting this report finalizing the preparation to have its own full ATIP delegation authority in fiscal year 2009–2010 in order to administer all Access to Information Act and Privacy Act matters as they relate to the management and delivery of passport services.
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.
The division 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.
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).
DFAIT faces an ever increasing number of requests under both Acts including consultations from other government departments. Specifically, in a four–year span from 2004–2005 to 2008–2009 DFAIT experienced a 15.5% average annual increase in such requests for a total increase of 78%. The expected number of requests for 2009–2010 is based on the average annual increase.
The assessment of the ATIP Office's workload at the end of fiscal 2008–2009 as well as its projected volume of new ATIP requests for 2009–2010 clearly demonstrates that its existing complement of 42 full–time equivalents (FTEs) 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:
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.
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. As well, improved compliance and commitment to these legislative responsibilities has been identified as a Government of Canada priority, reflected in the following instruments:
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.
The following section explains in more detail the TBS statistical report as provided in Annex B.
Between April 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009, the Department received six hundred and sixty–five (665) requests for information under the Access to Information Act. Along with those new requests received, four hundred and fifty–nine (459) requests were carried over from the previous fiscal year, for a total of one thousand, one hundred and twenty–four (1124) requests.
During the reporting period, seven hundred and thirty–nine (739) requests were completed and three hundred and eighty–five (385) still active files were carried over to the next reporting period.
The Access to Information requests received during this reporting period break down as follows:
The distribution of completed requests is as follows:
|Disclosed in part||314|
|Nothing disclosed (excluded)||5|
|Nothing disclosed (exempt)||17|
|Unable to process||157|
|Abandonded by applicant||159|
The exemptions most commonly used by the Department during the period were sub–sections 15(1) [International affairs and 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 383, 404, 224 and 226 requests, respectively. The Department has also applied exclusions under sub–section 69(1) [confidences of cabinet] for 52 requests.
During the reporting period, the Department claimed extensions pursuant to paragraphs 9(1)(a), 9(1)(b) and 9(1)(c): 319, 131, and16 times, respectfully.
For the reporting period, the Department collected $8,026.97 in fees, and waived $2,535.40 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.
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, 2008 and March 31, 2009, the Department received one thousand and thirty–nine (1039) consultations from other government institutions. In fact, last year DFAIT received even more requests for ATI consultations (1039) than ATI requests for access to records under its control (665). 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.
During the reporting period, one thousand, one hundred and thirty–four (1134) consultations were completed representing 95,921 pages.
In return, DFAIT consulted other government institutions the following number of times during the reporting period.
|Other Federal Governments||423|
|Privy Council Office (Cabinet Confidences)||181|
|Provincial Institutions or Municipalities||35|
|Foreign Governments or Institutions of States||71|
During the reporting period, one hundred and twenty–four (124) complaints against the Department were filed with the Information Commissioner of Canada.
|Reason for Complaint|
|Refusal – Exemptions||6|
|Refusal – General||23|
Eighty (80) investigations were completed during the reporting period.
|Discontinued||40||No Action Required||79|
|Not substantiated||12||Remedial Action Taken||1|
No new Federal Court proceedings were initiated during the reporting period.
However, during the previous reporting period, Professor Amir Attaran had 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. At the end of the reporting period, the court process had been finalized but a judgement in the case had not yet been received. However, it is expected that DFAIT will be largely successful in its justification for most of the exemptions invoked since the disclosure of information about different agencies and officials in the Afghan Government as well as Canada's allies in Afghanistan could be injurious to Canada's international relations and should not be disclosed.
On a related note, it is important to mention as well that there has been an increase over the last couple of years in the number of parallel ATIP requests and litigation cases. This generates a significant additional burden on the ATIP Office as a result of the requirement to assess exemptions invoked under ATIP provisions in conjunction with redactions made under section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act.
DFAIT was once again one of ten institutions selected by the Information Commissioner of Canada for its yearly Report Card. For the 2007–2008 review period the Commissioner changed its rating scale from an A–F scheme to a 5–star rating scale. DFAIT received a 2 star "below average" rating for its overall performance and continued to be criticized for not doing enough to meet legislative demands. The Commissioner once again recommended that the necessary adequate resources be put in place to ensure that Canadians' rights of access are respected and to reduce the "ripple effect" on other government institutions who must consult DFAIT on records, if released, could be injurious to international affairs.
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.
During 2008–2009, 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 introduced 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 quickly proved to improve overall retention and succession planning.
While ATIP Awareness sessions have been given to departmental officials over the years, the ATIP Division implemented a more 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 developed a more in–depth hands–on training program for ATIP Liaison Officers across the Department.
In all, the ATIP Office delivered ATIP training in 23 separate sessions during the reporting period and to hundreds of DFAIT employees including:
In October 2008, the ATIP Office implemented of a streamlined ATIP tasking process that was instituted across DFAIT. This single gateway into the program areas has provided a common ATIP tracking system to improve efficiencies and to measure performance.
During this reporting period, the ATIP Office worked on new and improved ATIP Guidelines customized for processing ATIP requests at DFAIT. Once completed early in 2009–2010 it will serve to consolidate all the DFAIT ATIP policies and procedures in the administration of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act as well as its related TBS policies.
The following are improvements that have been made over the last reporting year as well as ongoing initiatives to improve the overall ATIP function at DFAIT: