Annual Report - Access to Information Act

Table of contents

Access to Information Act

Annual Report
(April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016)

Introduction

The Access to Information Act provides a right of access to information in records under the control of a government institution in accordance with the principles that government information should be available to the public, that necessary exceptions to the right of access should be limited and specific and that decisions on the disclosure of government information should be reviewed independently of government.

This report has been prepared and will be tabled in parliament in accordance with section 72 of the Access to Information Act. The information contained in this report pertains to the administration of the Access to Information Act within the Parks Canada Agency.

The Parks Canada Agency’s mandate is to protect and present nationally significant examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage and to foster public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure their ecological and commemorative integrity for present and future generations.  The Agency is responsible for 46 national parks, 168 national historic sites and 4 national marine conservation areas.  The Agency is highly decentralized with team members located across the country and often in remote areas.

Parks Canada’s Access to Information and Privacy Office coordinates all activities related to the legislation for the Agency.  It is comprised of six (6) full-time employees.  The Parks Canada Access to Information and Privacy Office has developed and continues to refine and improve internal policies and procedures in order to meet its obligations in compliance with the Access to Information Act, regulations and Treasury Board policies.

In fiscal year 2015-2016, based on the results of an investigation by the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada relating to complaints on the processing of access to information requests, Parks Canada implemented a series of improvements to the management and processing of access to information requests.  Further improvements have been made in the first quarter of fiscal year 2016-2017.  These improvements have led to faster processing of access to information requests and significant progress in reducing the Agency’s backlog of past requests.

The following report represents an overview of activities carried out within the Agency during the reporting period of April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016.

Statistical report - Access to Information Act requests

The appended report (Appendix A) contains detailed statistics on the information requests processed under the Access to Information Act.

Interpretation of the Statistical Report
Access to Information Act Requests

Between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016, the Agency received one hundred and seventy-five (175) formal information requests under the Access to Information Act.  Seventy-seven (77) requests were carried forward from the previous reporting period.  One hundred and sixty-nine (169) requests were completed before the end of March.  Eighty-three (83) requests were carried forward to the next reporting period for the following reasons: sixty-seven (67) requests required additional time to allow for consultations with third parties and sixteen (16) requests were received at the end of the reporting period.

During fiscal year 2015-2016, the Agency has experienced a 57% increase in formal information requests.  The Agency continues to receive requests for information related to two (2) separate high-profile issues from the previous reporting period.

The following is a percentage breakdown by source of information requests received during 2015-2016:

  • 26.9% public
  • 48.6% media
  • 14.3% business
  • 4.0% academia
  • 6.2% other organizations

In most cases, the information that was exempted from disclosure from those records that were “disclosed in part” was personal information pertaining to other individuals, third party financial and/or commercial information, advice or recommendations developed by the Agency or accounts of internal discussions.

In one (1) case, all of the requested information was exempted from disclosure pursuant to Section 23 of the Act.

In one (1) case, all of the requested information was excluded from disclosure pursuant to Section 69 of the Act.

The twenty-nine (29) requests that were abandoned were received from individuals who, after being informed of the provisions of the Act, either withdrew their requests or did not respond to our correspondence.

The fourteen (14) requests included in the “no records exist” category were received from applicants who requested access to records that either did not exist or were not described clearly enough to allow for their identification.

Fees

The Agency has adopted Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada guidelines on fees and fee waivers.  Processing fees that do not exceed $25 are automatically waived.  Decisions to waive or reduce processing fees that exceed $25 are made on an individual basis and are based on the public benefit which would be derived from the disclosure of the records.

No waiver is granted for the initial application fee.  It is, however, reimbursed when the request is for information that is available under the Privacy Act.

One of the recommendations arising from the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada’s investigation of complaints against Parks Canada was specific to the calculation and assessment of fees.  Parks Canada has made improvements to its process that will ensure that all fees for access to information requests are assessed in accordance with the Access to Information Act, the Access to Information Regulations, and related Treasury Board policies and directives.

Time limitations

During fiscal year 2015-2016, 40% of completed requests (67 cases) were processed within the initial 30-day period.  In 20% of completed requests (34 cases), a 30-day time extension was required in order to conduct consultations with either third parties and/or other federal government departments.  In 11% of completed requests (19 cases), an extension of over 30 days was required because of the number of records requested and to enable the Agency to conduct necessary consultations.  In 29 % of completed requests (49 cases), additional time was required due to the complexity of the requests.

Costs

The costs reported in the statistical report are only those costs incurred for the processing of requests.

Formal / Informal Interface

Agency officials continue to respond to informal requests from the public.  Program officers are aware of the impact of the legislation and promptly refer formal information requests to the ATIP Office.  Program officers also contact the Office for guidance on the disclosure of information through informal processes.

Between April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016, fifty-one (51) informal requests were processed under the Access to Information Act.  These requests concerned documents that were disclosed in response to previous information requests.

In addition to the above, the ATIP Office also reviews responses to parliamentary questions, audit and evaluation reports for publishing on the Agency’s internet site, and requests for strategic advice dealing with Agency programs.

Complaints / Investigations

During the reporting period under review, nineteen (19) complaints were filed with the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada.

Eight (8) complaints concerned the delay in responding to the requests and eleven (11) complaints concerned the non-disclosure of information. Five (5) complaints were resolved at the end of the reporting period.

The Information Commissioner of Canada initiated a systemic complaint against the Agency pursuant to subsection 30(3) of the Access to Information Act.  The investigation is focused on the Agency’s internal processes.  The period covered by this investigation is April 1, 2013 to September 30, 2014.  As a result of ongoing discussions with the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada, Parks Canada has implemented a number of improvements to its access to information processes that will help to ensure that the Agency meets its legislation obligations.

Federal Court of Canada

One (1) appeal was carried forward from the previous reporting period. This appeal has not been resolved.

Consultations Received from Other
Institutions and Organizations

Between April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016, the Agency received sixty-seven (67) consultations under the Access to Information Act.  Ten (10) consultations were carried forward from the previous reporting period.  Seventy-four (74) consultations were completed before the end of March.  Three (3) consultations were carried forward to the next reporting period as they were received at the end of the reporting period under review.

Administrative practices

Delegation of authority

In 2015-2016, decision-making responsibility for the application of the various provisions of the Access to Information Act is fully delegated to the Agency’s Access to Information Coordinator.  In line with the recommendations of the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada, Parks Canada will ensure that only those with the properly delegated authorities will have the ability to have an impact on the disclosure process.

Procedures

The ATIP Office acts as a central coordinating point for the processing of information requests received under the Access to Information.  As such, it maintains data banks and keeps statistical records on requests processed.  Requests are received by the ATIP Office and forwarded to the appropriate Program for retrieval of the requested records.  Program officials retrieve the records and prepare preliminary recommendations concerning their disclosure.  These recommendations are reviewed by the Office.  The ATIP Office assesses the application of the Act, conducts all necessary consultations with and/or notifications of third parties, and prepares final recommendations for review by the appropriate delegated authority.  When the final recommendations have been approved by the appropriate delegated authority, the Office prepares the records for disclosure.

The Agency monitors the time required to process access to information requests.  As previously mentioned, Parks Canada has already begun to implement the recommendations from the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada.  Parks Canada has reviewed its procedures for access to information requests which have led to improvements in processing times and several new measures have been introduced to facilitate faster processing.

In addition, weekly meetings are being held between the ATIP Office and senior officials to improve the monitoring of Agency procedures in response to access to information requests. 

Briefing sessions

To ensure that all employees of the Agency are aware of the legislation, awareness sessions are given periodically.  These sessions provide basic information on the provisions of the Access to Information Act.

In 2015-2016, twenty-three (23) sessions were given to Agency employees.  In total, one hundred and fifty-five (155) employees attended these sessions.  Parks Canada is working to expand the delivery of information sessions and training to staff of the Agency as part of a number of improvements to processes and practices in responding to access to information requests.

Other Activities

During fiscal year 2015-2016, the Agency conducted an evaluation of its performance.  As a result of this assessment, modifications were made to current processes.  For instance, a notice of disclosure process was established advising program officials of upcoming disclosures, replacing the previous approval process.  Another example pertains to the delivery of records in response to information requests.  An ATIP specific drive was created enabling the automatic upload of records by program officials thus improving the time required by business units to provide responsive records.