All our program activities and efforts aim to achieve a single strategic outcome — to ensure that individuals’ rights under the Access to Information Act are safeguarded. This section discusses our plans regarding both compliance with access to obligations and internal services for 2012–2013.
The Access to Information Act is the legislative authority for the oversight activities of the Information Commissioner of Canada. We support the Commissioner’s dual role as Ombudsperson and Agent of Parliament.
We investigate complaints on how federal institutions handle access to information requests and we review institutions’ performance in complying with their obligations under the Act. We report results of investigations, reviews and recommendations to complainants, federal institutions and Parliament. Where required, we assist the Commissioner in bringing issues of enforcement or interpretation of the Act before the Federal Court.
We also assist the Commissioner in her advisory role to Parliament and parliamentary committees on all access to information matters. We conduct benchmarking and analysis to provide the Commissioner with the best possible information to support her advice and recommendations.
|Expected Results||Performance Indicators||Targets|
|Canadians receive timely resolution of complaints about how federal institutions process access to information requests.||Percentage of (i) administrative cases and (ii) priority cases completed within set timelines||
(i) Administrative cases: 85% closed in 90 days
(ii) Priority cases: 75% completed within 6 months (by 2014–2015)
|Institutions meet their obligations under the Access to Information Act and adopt measures to address institutional and systemic issues affecting access to information.||Percentage of recommendations from (i) investigations of complaints and (ii) report cards and systemic investigations, that are adopted||
(i) Investigations of complaints: 95% of recommendations are adopted
(ii) Report cards and systemic investigations: 80% of recommendations are adopted
|Parliament receives timely, clear and relevant information and advice about the access implications of legislation, jurisprudence, regulations and policies.||Percentage of access-relevant parliamentary committee reports, transcripts and Hansards that refer to the OIC’s perspectives and advice||85% of relevant parliamentary documents refer to OIC|
Since 2008, we have constantly monitored, assessed and adjusted our procedures and processes. Our overarching goal has been to continuously improve the effectiveness and timeliness of our investigations for the benefits of Canadians and Canadian democracy.
The detailed knowledge of our caseload has enabled us to refine and increase case management strategies to generate more and faster results. For example, we group complaints by institution, type, subject matter or request, and work to resolve them simultaneously. In 2011–2012, we used this portfolio approach to address a large number of complaints that accounted for over 30 percent of the inventory and involved two institutions—Canada Revenue Agency (373 cases) and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (261 cases). We intend to expand the use of the portfolio approach and refine it according to institutions’ business lines, exemptions invoked and subject matters.
Building on successes and lessons learned, we are now focusing on our most complex and challenging cases. We have initiated a strategy to streamline the investigation of “special delegation” complaints, which involve national security, international affairs and defence issues. Eight of our most senior and experienced investigators handle these cases, in part using a portfolio approach for institutions generating the greatest number of complaints of this nature. Our intention is to minimize the number of contact points and administrative delays, ensure consistency, foster an open dialogue with institutions and promote the disclosure of information that does not injure the public interest.
At the end of 2011–2012, our inventory contained approximately 400 special delegation cases (about 20 percent of the total). Based on our performance to date, we expect to close approximately 150 cases in 2012–2013.
Following a similar approach, we will conduct and assess a pilot project to determine the feasibility of completing priority cases within six months. Priority cases deal with urgent issues such as threats to life, liberty or security of individuals, loss of economic rights or legal remedies, and possible destruction of records. Or they have a significant public impact and generate widespread public or parliamentary interest, for example cases dealing with public safety and national security, government accountability, precedent-setting cases or systemic issues.
Currently, we have approximately 118 cases that meet one of those criteria. Our goal is to complete 75 percent of priority cases within six months. We expect to achieve this target by 2014–2015 once active cases are closed and the process is well ironed out.
The specificity of our work, a high number of new recruits as well as developments in access to information call for customized training on an ongoing basis and up-to-date investigative tools. Our current focus on refusal complaints adds a new dimension to our development efforts and provision of resources for investigators.
With the assistance of Legal Services, we have undertaken to update and tailor investigators’ manual, guidelines, work plans and templates to assist with the investigation and analysis of complex refusal cases. In 2012–2013, we will continue to provide training on the interpretation of specific provisions of the Access to Information Act and related jurisprudence, as required.
Our Information Technology team is proceeding with the integration of the investigative and legal case management systems. The consolidated system will facilitate tracking, analysis and reporting of litigation issues pertaining to complaints, investigations and access to information in general. This work will also inform the development of standard processes to facilitate the coordination between the investigative and legal branches.
Following the audit of our Intake and Early Resolution Unit,Endnote 14 we established clear and realistic targets or benchmarks for the processing of administrative complaints, from registration to management approval. We will now develop and implement service standards for refusal investigations.
Finally, senior management will continue to actively foster and promote diligence, duty to assist and maximal disclosure of information in resolving even the most complex cases. They do so by maintaining an open dialogue with institutions, taking part in high-level meetings to discuss concerns, challenges and potential solutions, or in discussion forums to share OIC perspectives, requirements and expectations. Where appropriate, the Commissioner will also make use of the full range of her investigative powers, including the authority to conduct examinations under oath or to require the production of information.
* * * * *
Timeliness of Responses to Access Requests
In 2009–2010, we launched a three-year exercise to investigate the root causes of delays in access to information and document best practices.Endnote 15 Our objective was to offer Parliament, central agencies and individual institutions a thorough, fact-based diagnostic with specific and tailored solutions to guide improvements. The exercise also had the benefit of encouraging institutions to proactively comply with their obligations under the Access to Information Act.
The year 2012–2013 will conclude our three-year plan for report cards. We will table a detailed follow-up of the progress achieved by the 13 institutions that performed below average and the 5 institutions that were considered at risk of underperforming based on their 2008–2009 performance.
We will also follow up on the progress achieved by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and by Canada Post Corporation in implementing recommendations for improvement. The two institutions obtained failing grades for their handling of access to information requests in 2009–2010.
They were part of a sample of institutions surveyed that came under the Access to Information Act as a result of the Federal Accountability Act.
Under our three-year plan, we initiated a systemic investigation into the causes and sources of delay in the processing of access to information requests. This investigation is looking into delays resulting from mandatory consultations as well as possible interference. We should conclude this investigation during 2012–2013.
Two years ago, we started monitoring extensionsEndnote 16 taken for more than 30 days because the inappropriate use of time extensions often leads to delays in access to information. We used the compliance rate with the 9(2) notification process as an element of institutional rating in our report cards. In 2012–2013, in consultation with Treasury Board Secretariat as the administrator of the Act, we will refine our methodology for the use and reporting of extension notices filed with the Commissioner. Such reporting fosters institutions’ self-discipline in providing timely responses to requesters.
* * * * *
Expertise for a Modern Access to Information Regime
In 2010, the Commissioner joined forces with other Information and Privacy Commissioners across Canada to issue a resolution calling on all levels of government to embrace open government principles for greater transparency.Endnote 17 In 2011, we hosted the International Conference of Information CommissionersEndnote 18 in collaboration with the Canadian Bar Association. In 2012, we will continue to leverage expertise and catalyze synergies to advance the modernization of access to information in Canada. Thirty years after the Access to Information Act was introduced, it is imperative to bring the regime into the digital age and up to par with the most progressive models.
In a number of reports and presentations to Parliament, we have already highlighted and documented various legislative gaps and deficiencies. For example, our 2009–2010 report cards exposed some of the difficulties associated with the legislative scheme that was put in place under the Federal Accountability Act (FedAA), notably institution-specific exemptions and exclusions.Endnote 19
The dispute and resulting court actions involving the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation largely result from the FedAA-induced section 68.1 of the Act. The Commissioner appeared twice before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics to explain the source of the dispute and proposed to the Committee an amendment providing for a discretionary, injury-based exemption.Endnote 20 In its March 2012 report, the Committee endorsed the Commissioner’s view that the section should be reformed.
The right of access has also been eroded over time through statutory prohibitions to disclosure made under section 24 of the Act. This involves adding to Schedule II various provisions from other pieces of legislation. These provisions have significantly increased over the last 30 years. Schedule II should be reviewed to ensure that provisions represent appropriate and necessary exemptions to the access legislation.
Our March 2011 report on a case of political interference with the administration of the Act highlighted additional gaps in the legislation.Endnote 21 The Act limits the Commissioner’s ability to disclose information about a possible criminal offence to the appropriate investigative body.
Moreover, the 2011 decision from the Supreme Court of Canada on the control of records within ministerial offices underlined the need for the legislation to clarify what constitute ministerial records as opposed to departmental records. It also needs to introduce a duty to document information so that there is an official record of important decisions made on behalf of Canadians.
As stated in previous reports, we have undertaken a comparative review of the Access to Information Act across selected jurisdictions. In the spirit of the dialogue component of open government, we will conduct online consultations with stakeholders to fully understand their expectations in meeting the challenge of modernizing the Act. We will hold discussions about reform options as part of the 2012 Right to Know Week. Following on the legacy of previous Information Commissioners, our objective is to present Parliament with value-added input on the necessary amendments to the Act.
In January 2012, Canada’s Information and Privacy Commissioners once again joined forces to assist the government in developing its action plan for the international Open Government Partnership.Endnote 22 In an open letter to the President of the Treasury Board, the Commissioners made five substantive recommendations. These recommendations include modernizing the legislation, improving compliance with access to information obligations and optimizing the performance of access to information programs. In 2012–2013, we will continue to provide more input as Canada’s Open Government participation continues.
Over the past two years, various parliamentary committees have solicited the Commissioner’s input on a range of issues. As required, we will continue to assist the Commissioner in her advisory role to Parliament during 2012–2013.
Internal services are groups of related activities and resources that are administered to support the needs of our program and other corporate obligations. These groups are: Management and Oversight Services; Communications Services; Human Resources Management Services; Financial Management Services; Information Management Services; Information Technology Services; Material Services; Acquisition Services; Travel and Other Administrative Services. Given the nature of our mandate, Legal Services contributes directly to our core Compliance program activity. In 2012–2013, we intend to start developing a performance measurement framework for internal services.
An Exceptional Workplace
The creation and maintenance of an exceptional workplace represents a key result area under our 2011-2014 Strategic Plan.Endnote 23 To better support this strategic objective, we undertook last year to develop a new integrated HR-business plan. The exercise was conducted earlier than anticipated given the successful completion of previously planned HR initiatives, changes in the operating environment and significant shifts within our workforce.
Talent management is clearly our single most important requirement to fulfill business needs and foster employee satisfaction. It can be defined as the ongoing process of identifying, developing and effectively using individuals’ talent, based on performance reviews, competency assessments, learning objectives and career aspirations. Talent management typically includes development, recruitment and retention activities.
Last year, we researched how various federal organizations of different sizes manage their talent. Based on this information, we developed a talent management framework that takes into account budgetary considerations and business needs across the organization. The existing Investigator Training Program remains as a component of talent management.
In addition to objectives and eligibility, the framework outlines the program’s structure and key requirements—e.g. career development plans, mapping of competencies, assignment opportunities and agreements, learning and performance objectives, follow-ups and evaluations. The range of development activities includes training, work assignments, job rotation, coaching and tutoring. Training consists of a combination of classroom, self-study, e-learning, observation, hands-on and other alternative training methods.
In 2012–2013, we will develop, communicate and implement our corporate talent management program with a view to meeting the following objectives:
As part of talent mapping, we will also identify individuals whose knowledge is critical to the organization and determine the best ways to transfer their knowledge. This effort will contribute to the development of a comprehensive knowledge management system, which we will initiate once our information management framework is fully in place.
The tools, systems and processes making up the “enabling infrastructure” represent another important component of our work environment. Since 2009–2010, the continued upgrade and consolidation of our technology and information infrastructure has provided us with tools and systems to more effectively plan, manage and carry out our duties and functions.
In 2012–2013, our Communications Unit will continue to make maximum use of our intranet to facilitate internal communications, engage employees and provide information updates and easy access to important OIC documents. Workshops and tools will be offered to content providers to ensure full compliance with Web accessibility and usability standards.
With enhanced network security and bandwidth, we have progressively added various products and tools to our Web 2.0 platform. Last year, we developed and posted our User Guide for Social Media Accounts.Endnote 24 Our parliamentary and communications staff use social media to monitor important issues and quickly respond to questions from parliamentarians and journalists. Web 2.0 has potential benefits for other business needs, such as research, collaboration with institutions and optimization of service delivery. In 2012–2013, we will develop a strategy to guide and facilitate various Web activities and initiatives across the organization.
Our IM/IT unit is now taking on the challenge of transitioning us to a fully digital and wireless work environment. This transition, which is expected to generate additional flexibility and efficiency, will coincide with the relocation of our offices in 2013 to 30 Victoria, in Gatineau. We were informed last year that the lease for our Kent Street offices, in Ottawa, would not be renewed as the main building occupant requires and successfully claimed extra space to consolidate operations.
Our new location will allow us to remain as close as possible to the majority of our stakeholders and reporting authorities, who are concentrated mainly in downtown Ottawa. The building will also house other Agents of Parliament, which offers opportunities for collaboration and shared services arrangements.
However, as our recent operating review indicated, the Office does not have the capacity to fund this move through internal reallocation. The move is estimated at approximately three million dollars. Therefore, we have undertaken to identify a source of funds for the relocation, in consultation with the Treasury Board Secretariat.
In all endeavours and interactions, institutions must be guided by a “strong values-based approach,” reflecting the enduring values of the public sector—respect for democracy, respect for people, integrity, stewardship and excellence. In 2010, OIC employees took the lead in defining our corporate values and value statements. We have integrated these values in our new organizational code of conduct, which builds on the 2012 Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector and includes guidelines on conflict of interest and post-employment. In 2012–2013, we will conduct communications and recognition activities to present the new code to our staff and facilitate its operationalization.
The Public Service Employee Survey enables managers and employees to improve people management and workplace conditions at all levels of their organization. Results from the 2011 survey at the OIC have highlighted some issues requiring attention. At a minimum, these call for improved and sustained internal communications. Following consultations with staff and management, we will develop and implement an action plan in 2012–2013 to address those issues and ensure that it is communicated to all employees.
* * * * *
Fiscal Responsibility and Responsible Stewardship
Under fiscal restraint, public institutions limit spending to key priorities, decrease discretionary spending and focus resources with a view to increasing efficiencies. But as stewards of public resources, public institutions are also vested with the responsibility to protect capital and gains from previous investments while ensuring the sustainability of their program for the benefit of current and future generations.
In 2012–2013, a number of activities will enable us to balance both imperatives in the pursuit of our strategic objective. These activities deal with assurance on policy compliance and internal control, performance measurement and evaluation, as well as shared services initiatives. In these endeavours, we will be guided by the advice and feedback from our independent Audit Committee.
To provide management with reasonable assurance on policy compliance, we need a good understanding of our business risks. This way, we can ensure that internal controls are balanced against and proportional to the risks they mitigate. Given ongoing developments, we will update our risk assessment next year and revise our audit plan accordingly.
We must also monitor and improve, as required, our key processes and controls. To do so, we have undertaken to document and assess processes and controls pertaining to financial management, security and human resources management.
With respect to financial reporting, we mandated an external firm to conduct a preliminary review of processes and controls regarding salary and operating expenditures, material management and end-of-period accounting. Only minor improvements were recommended, and they have been implemented.
A major thrust of our efforts over the past two years has been the establishment of a full-fledged security program in line with the 2009 Policy on Government Security. Given the nature of our mandate, full compliance is essential to mitigate any real or perceived risks pertaining to our handling of highly sensitive material obtained from other institutions. The program covers a wide range of activities, including: business continuity planning, emergency management, personnel security, physical security, contracting security, technology and information management security, security awareness and training.
To date, we have carried out a number of risk and compliance assessments and implemented various corrective measures. We are now working to finalize our corporate security policy framework and the development of related plans and procedures. We will also develop a security awareness training program and undertake staff training.
In 2012–2013, we will concentrate on operationalizing key control pertaining to human resources management. This effort will be guided by findings and recommendations from a staffing audit, which the Public Service Commission undertook at the end of 2011–2012.
In addition to efficient internal controls and assurance on policy compliance, performance measurement is key to ensuring long-term and enduring benefits to Canadians. It serves to monitor and assess progress towards established goals and informs decision making, notably on resource allocations. It supports trend analysis and enables credible and meaningful reporting.
Detailed and robust, our case management system for investigations already allows us to track and analyze our performance across units and categories of complaints, over time and against targets. We are now working to enhance the system’s tracking and reporting capabilities by integrating legal case information.
In 2012–2013, in accordance with recent revisions to the Policy on Management, Resources and Results Structures, we will refine the performance framework used for our reports to Parliament.
To support evidence-based decision making, we will develop and introduce an evaluation function by the March 31, 2013 deadline set by the Treasury Board Policy on Evaluation. The new function will help improve the design, delivery, performance and performance measurement of the organization’s policies and program. Given limited resources and the scope of our program, evaluation and audit activities will be planned and implemented as part of a single, integrated risk-based framework. This integration will maximize the value of the two functions, by treating them as mutually supportive risk management and performance improvement areas of activities.
To achieve greater efficiencies and minimize risks, we are committed to leveraging existing or potential shared services options, where feasible. We have undertaken discussions to establish a memorandum of understanding with the Shared Services Unit of Public Works and Government Services Canada for the provision of human resources services.
Our planned relocation with other Agents of Parliament presents additional opportunities to achieve efficiencies by sharing common administrative services. We will continue to implement standard business processes consistent with those of other federal institutions. This standardization will facilitate potential transitions to shared services arrangements.