Annual Report - Access to Information Act

Table of contents

Access to Information Act

Annual Report
(April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017)

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 47 national parks, 171 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 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 2016-2017, Parks Canada made a number of improvements to the processing of the Agency's access to information requests.  These improvements led to the rapid elimination of an accumulated backlog of access to information requests and the processing of all new requests within legislative timelines.  Moreover, the Agency is implementing a training program to strengthen awareness across the Agency of the policies and procedures for access to information.  Parks Canada is committed to transparency and the expeditious processing of access to information requests and has put in place the systems and processes necessary to meet this commitment.

The following report represents an overview of activities carried out within the Agency during the reporting period of April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017.

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, 2016 and March 31, 2017, the Agency received two hundred and eighty-eight (288) formal information requests under the Access to Information Act.  Eighty-three (83) requests were carried forward from the previous reporting period.  Two hundred and sixty-five (265) requests were completed before the end of March.  One hundred and six (106) requests were carried forward to the next reporting period for the following reasons: sixty-five (65) requests required additional time to allow for consultations with third parties and forty-one (41) requests were received at the end of the reporting period.

During fiscal year 2016-2017, the Agency has experienced a 61% increase in formal information requests.  The Agency continues to receive requests for information related to one (1) high-profile issue from the previous reporting period.

The following is a percentage breakdown by source of information requests received during 2016-2017:

  • 18.1%                         public
    33.7%                         media
    36.5%                         business
     3.8%                          academia
     7.9%                          other organizations

In most cases, the information that was exempted from disclosure from 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 two (2) cases, all of the requested information was excluded from disclosure pursuant to Section 69 of the Act.

The twelve (12) 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 twenty-two (22) 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

As a result of the government’s decision in 2016 to waive all fees beyond the initial $5 application fee, no waiver is granted for the initial fee.  It is however, reimbursed when the request is for information that is available under the Privacy Act.

Time limitations

During fiscal year 2016-2017, 59% of completed requests (155 cases) were processed within the initial 30-day period.  In 8 % of completed requests (22 cases), a 30-day time extension was required in order to conduct consultations with either third parties and/or other government departments.  In 11% of completed requests (30 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 22 % of completed requests (58 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 importance 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, 2016 to March 31, 2017, one hundred and thirty-five (135) informal requests were processed under the Access to Information Act, which represent a 38% increase from the previous reporting period. These requests concerned documents that were previously disclosed in response to information requests.

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

Complaints / Investigations

During the reporting period under review, five (5) complaints were filed with the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada.

Two (2) complaints concerned the extension taken in order to process the requests and three (3) complaints concerned the non-disclosure of information. Two (2) complaints were resolved at the end of the reporting period.

In 2015-2016, the Information Commissioner of Canada investigated Parks Canada with regard to a systemic complaint against the Agency.  Parks Canada has implemented a number of measures in response to the Information Commissioner's Report that have significantly improved the processing of access to information requests and strengthened awareness across the Agency of the policies and procedures for access to information.  Since responding to the Commissioner's Report, Parks Canada has eliminated an accumulated backlog of access to information requests and has processed all new requests within legislative timelines.  Parks Canada continues to maintain an open dialogue with the Office of the Commissioner to share information and learn from best practices that are, in turn, applied to the Agency's work.  Since the implementation of improvements to Parks Canada’s access to information function, fewer complaints about the Agency's responses to access to information requests have been received by the Office of the Commissioner.

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, 2016 to March 31, 2017, the Agency received eighty (80) consultations under the Access to Information Act.  Three (3) consultations were carried forward from the previous reporting period.  Seventy-nine (79) consultations were completed before the end of March.  Four (4) 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 2016-2017, decision-making responsibility for the application of the various provisions of the Access to Information Act is fully delegated to the Vice-President, External Relations and Visitor Experience Directorate and the Agency’s Access to Information Coordinator. The Agency continues to ensure that only those with the properly delegated authorities have an 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.  When the need for improvements to the management of requests are identified, internal processes are revisited and new measures are implemented.

In addition, weekly meetings are held between the ATIP Office and senior officials in order to monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of the Agency’s access to information processes and procedures, including compliance with legislative obligations.

 

Training sessions

In order to support access to information as an Agency priority and further to the Agency’s commitment to the Information Commissioner of Canada in this area, the Agency has developed a mandatory training program consisting of a two-phased approach.  The first phase requires that Agency employees take the free online course on Access to Information from the School of the Public Service. The School has reported that over 1,300 employees have taken the online course in 2016-2017.  The second phase consists of a one and half day formal instructor-led course for employees that are regularly involved in access to information requests.  In 2016-2017, eight (8) sessions were given to Agency employees.  In total, ninety-seven (97) employees attended these sessions.  The Agency officials who have not completed the second phase of the program will be required to do so in the next reporting period. 

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