Information Commissioner Issues a Dire Diagnosis for Access to Information in Canada



    OTTAWA, Feb. 26 /CNW Telbec/ - The Information Commissioner of Canada,
Robert Marleau, tabled a Special Report in Parliament today, documenting
serious flaws with the administration of the Access to Information Act,
Canada's freedom of information legislation. The report, entitled Report Cards
2007-2008 and Systemic Issues Affecting Access to Information in Canada, is
based on an assessment of how well a sample of 10 federal institutions
performed in responding to information requests during fiscal year 2007-2008.

    Main Findings on Institutional Performance

    Most institutions surveyed performed below average for various reasons
including excessive workload, lack of resources and inefficient processes. The
most significant finding attests to the fact that the 30-day period intended
by Parliament to be the norm in responding to information requests is
increasingly becoming the exception. The report shows a trend toward greater
use of time extensions and for longer periods of time, a trend which is not
matched by a proportional increase in the number of information requests.
    "Our analysis has confirmed what Canadians have been hearing and
experiencing for a while now, when trying to obtain government-held
information," Mr. Marleau said. "There are major delays, particularly with
extensions, with some institutions routinely taking months to respond to
information requests. Canadians expect and deserve far greater efficiency and
accountability from their government."

    Systemic Impediments to Efficiency and Effectiveness

    Today's report also provides important information on system-wide trends
and other contextual factors (e.g. workload, capacity, and process) that
affect the capacity of institutions to provide complete, accurate and timely
responses to information requests. Systemic issues of significance include:
widespread deficiencies in information management; the negative impact of the
consultation process; chronic gaps in human resources capacity and training;
and lack of effective executive leadership in the area of access to
information.
    "The poor performance shown by institutions is symptomatic of a major
information management crisis throughout government," Mr. Marleau explained.
In today's digital environment, outmoded 'paper' practices, inconsistencies,
overlapping, and the like, unnecessarily slow down the retrieval process, lead
to unsuccessful or repeated searches, and generate huge amounts of pages to
review."
    The prevalence of consultations between institutions also tends to create
substantial delays in responding to information requests. Yet, this reality is
not currently recognized, measured or appropriately resourced. Moreover, only
the institution subject to the request is accountable for meeting the
requirements of the Act.
    On the human resources front, there is an acute shortage of qualified
personnel to handle access to information operations, and there is no
mandatory staff training in this area.
    "These gaps are clearly indicative of a lack of leadership at the highest
levels of government," Mr. Marleau added. "As the organisation responsible for
ensuring policy compliance, the Treasury Board Secretariat has yet to exercise
the high-profile and forceful leadership which is required in the area of
access to information."

    Recommendations and Follow-Up

    The Information Commissioner's report makes a number of recommendations
to the Treasury Board Secretariat as well as individual institutions to help
institutions improve their compliance record and to strengthen performance
monitoring. General recommendations range from improving information
management practices, to developing an integrated human resources plan -to
address shortages and ensure adequate resources-, to improving tracking and
reporting mechanisms, particularly with respect to extensions and
consultations.
    For its part, the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) will carry
out a follow-up with the 10 institutions surveyed to evaluate progress. There
are also plans to conduct a formal systemic investigation that will focus
specifically on the use and impact of time extensions.
    In addition, the OIC will develop and publish a three-year plan for
future performance reviews, which will specify in advance, participating
institutions, the type and scope of data to be collected, and other
requirements.
    Today's report once again highlights the need for a more sophisticated
compliance model for access to information. There are currently no adequate
performance incentives and no consequences for not complying with legislative
requirements. More importantly, there is an urgent need to align the access to
information regime with today's digital imperative.
    For a copy of the report or for general enquiries, please visit our
website at www.infocom.gc.ca.




For further information:

For further information: Media enquiries: Thérèse Boisclair, (613)
943-4368


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