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Annual Report to Parliament on the Administration of the Access to Information Act – 2008–2009

Introduction

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).

Purpose of the Access to Information Act

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.

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 Department's legal mandate, as set out in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act, RSC 1985, c. E–22, is to:

  • conduct all diplomatic and consular relations on behalf of Canada;
  • conduct 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;
  • conduct and manage international negotiations as they relate to Canada;
  • coordinate Canada's economic relations;
  • foster the expansion of Canada's international trade;
  • coordinate the direction given by the Government of Canada to the heads of Canada's diplomatic and consular missions and to manage these missions;
  • administer the foreign service of Canada;
  • foster the development of international law and its application in Canada's external relations.

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:

  • Afghanistan: Worked closely with other departments and agencies as well as with NATO partners to consolidate security, development and governance in Afghanistan, particularly in Kandahar.
  • North America and the Hemisphere: Led Canada's renewed engagement in the Americas, with a greater focus on Canadian interests. The Canadian model of democratic freedom and economic openness, combined with effective regional and social support, can serve as an example for countries seeking democratic institutions, free markets and social equality.
  • Growing/emerging markets, with a focus on China and India: As part of the government's Global Commerce Strategy, continued to implement government–wide, multi–year market plans for China, India and 11 other priority markets, and identify priority sectors and opportunities based on Canadian business capabilities and interests.
  • Transforming the department: Strengthened Canada's international platform and mission network undertaking initiatives such as shifting more resources and staff the field, aligning resources more closely with government priorities and modernizing the department's financial and human resources management.

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.

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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. 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.

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.

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.

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).

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:

  • There is an ever increasing level of complexity and sensitivity of ATIP requests facing DFAIT as well as parallel litigation.
  • DFAIT has unique responsibilities under both Acts on behalf of other government departments (OGDs) and related TBS policies. DFAIT consults with foreign organizations 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 (1039) than ATI requests for access to records under its control (665). 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.

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:

  • 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.

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Administration of Requests

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

Access to Information Requests

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.

Requestor Sources

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

Media267
Academia37
Business88
Organizations61
Public212
Total665

Disposition of Completed Requests

The distribution of completed requests is as follows:

All disclosed78
Disclosed in part314
Nothing disclosed (excluded)5
Nothing disclosed (exempt)17
Transferred6
Unable to process157
Abandonded by applicant159
Treated informally3

Exemptions and Exclusions

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.

Extensions

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.

Fees and Costs

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.

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, 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.

Consultations with Other Institutions

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

Other Federal Governments423
Privy Council Office (Cabinet Confidences)181
Provincial Institutions or Municipalities35
Foreign Governments or Institutions of States71
Total871

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Complaints and Investigations

Complaints Received and Completed

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
Delay20
Extension60
Fees11
Miscellaneous4
Refusal – Exemptions6
Refusal – General23

Eighty (80) investigations were completed during the reporting period.

FindingResult
Discontinued40No Action Required79
Not substantiated12Remedial Action Taken1
Resolved27  
Well Founded1  

Federal Court

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.

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. 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.

Internal Operations

Training and Development

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:

  • new ATIP Liaison Officers and their back–ups (approx. 140);
  • consular program officials and those preparing to work at missions abroad (approx. 130); as well as
  • various departmental program officials including participants in Security of Information courses (approx. 200).

Departmental Process

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.

Internal Policies on the Application of the Act

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.

Ongoing Improvements

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:

  • During this reporting period the ATIP Office closed approximately 1,000 more ATIP files compared to the previous fiscal year due in large part to the increased permanent capacity (12 new FTEs in 2007–2008) as well as the use of ATIP consultants to help reduce the backlog.
  • Continued to work towards building a more stable and robust capacity within the departmental ATIP Division. 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.
  • Maintained the reduction of 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 worked on new and improved ATIP Guidelines to update and consolidate the divisional policy and procedures manuals.
  • Subject to available resources, 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 improved compliance with Indicator #12 of the TBS Management Accountability Framework (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. Subject to available resources, the next phase of the update in 2009–2010 will be an in–depth review of all its information holdings including all personal information banks.
  • Another long overdue project that saw fruition during the reporting year is DFAIT's Internet ATIP website which was revamped and updated. As required by TBS' Privacy Impact Assessment Policy, the website also now includes summaries of Privacy Impact Assessments that were completed by DFAIT over the last seven years since the Policy was in effect in May 2002.
  • Continued to participate in 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 causes an over–reliance on hardcopy.
  • In October 2008 implemented a new streamlined ATIP tasking process across DFAIT with designated ATIP Liaison Officers for a single gateway into all the Bureaux and Branches. 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 has already proved to improve overall departmental understanding and commitment to ATIP compliance.
  • Implemented 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, which will be implemented in 2009–2010 subject to available funding.
  • At the end of the reporting period, the Corporate Secretariat also hired two consultants with expertise in ATIP and business processes, respectively, to examine the ATIP function at DFAIT in order to provide recommendations for additional improvements to the overall ATIP program activity. Their reports will be reflected in the next Annual Report to Parliament.
  • And finally, the ATIP Office also developed another Business Case in January 2009 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