ARCHIVED - Annual Report to Parliament 2008-2009 - Access to Information Act

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ARCHIVED - Annual Report to Parliament 2008-2009 - Access to Information Act (PDF, 4.23 MB)

Introduction

The purpose of the Access to Information Act is to provide a right of access to information contained in records under the control of a government institution. The information is subject to certain limited and specific exceptions. The Act is intended to complement and not replace existing procedures for access to government information.

In accordance with Section 72 of the Access to Information Act, this twenty-fifth Annual Report on the administration of the Access to Information Act at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) describes how NRC discharged its responsibilities in relation to the Act in the fiscal year 2008-2009.

National Research Council of Canada - Mandate

The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) is an agency of the Government of Canada established in 1916 under the NRC Act. Its mandate is to help build an innovative, knowledge-based economy for Canada through research and development, technology commercialization and industry support.

As stated in the NRC Act, the agency is responsible for: undertaking, assisting or promoting scientific and industrial research in different fields of importance to Canada; establishing, operating and maintaining a national science library; publishing and selling or otherwise distributing such scientific and technical information as the Council deems necessary; investigating standards and methods of measurement; working on the standardization and certification of scientific and technical apparatus and instruments and materials used or usable by Canadian industry; operating and administering any astronomical observatories established or maintained by the Government of Canada; administering NRC's research and development activities, including contributions used to support a number of international activities; and providing vital scientific and technological services to the research and industrial communities.

Delegation of Authority

The President has delegated the responsibilities associated with the administration of the Access to Information Act to the Secretary General. As a result, Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) forms part of the Secretary General's Office (SGO). Operational responsibility for the application of the Act has been delegated to the Access to Information and Privacy Coordinator.

A detailed signed Delegation Order can be found at Annex A.

Organizational Structure

The Secretary General has overall responsibility for ensuring that NRC's policies, procedures and practices are compliant with the application and administration of the Access to Information Act. National Research Council has procedures in place to process all formal access to information requests. These requests are processed by the Access to Information and Privacy Coordinator who has the authority to access all records held by NRC. The ATIP Unit works closely with the Records Manager and Senior Management across the organization.

The ATIP Unit is responsible for the coordination and implementation of policies, guidelines and procedures to ensure the organization's compliance with the Access to Information Act. The Unit also provides the following services to the organization:

  • Promotes awareness of the Access to Information Act within the organization
  • Processes and manages access to information requests and complaints
  • Manages the electronic management system
  • Responds to access-related matters in the Management Accountability Framework
  • Processes consultations received from other institutions
  • Provides advice and guidance to employees and senior officials on access related matters
  • Prepares an Annual Report to Parliament
  • Coordinates updates to the Info Source publications
  • Reviews departmental documents, such as audit and evaluation reports, prior to their proactive disclosure on the organization's website
  • Develops internal procedures
  • Participates in forums for the ATIP community, such as the Treasury Board Secretariat ATIP Community meetings and working groups
  • Maintains the ATIP reading room

In accordance with Section 71 of the Access to Information Act, the NRC-Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (NRC-CISTI) and the various Information Centres are the designated locations where the public may inspect manuals used by employees to administer or carry out programs or activities that affect the public. While the main NRC-CISTI library is located in Building M-55, Montreal Road Campus, Ottawa, Ontario, other NRC-Information Centres are located in various centres across the country.

The ATIP Unit is comprised of a full-time Coordinator and a full-time Officer. During the 2008-2009 fiscal year, the ATIP Unit went through a transitional period during which there was a shortage of staff. To address the transitional gap in the organization during that period, NRC engaged the services of a consultant on a casual basis to assist with the processing of the voluminous requests.

Interpretation of Statistical Report

Annex B provides a summarized statistical report on the access requests received and processed by National Research Council from 1 April 2008 to 31 March 2009. This section provides an interpretation of the statistical report.

During the fiscal year, NRC received twenty-three (23) new access to information requests. The breakdown of the requests received during the fiscal period is as follows: one (1) from the media; four (4) from businesses includes legal firms, and eighteen (18) from the general public/public sector. One request was carried forward from the previous fiscal year. NRC completed the processing of a total of seventeen (17) access requests during this reporting period. Seven requests (7) were carried over into the next fiscal year. The nature of the requests varied across the organization as follows:

  • Research program - 4
  • Grants and contributions including the NRC-Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) - 8
  • Administrative matters - 5
  • Call-ups against Master Standing Offers - 4
  • Audit and Evaluation - 1
  • Canadian Construction Materials Centre - 1

Although there was a fifty percent decrease in requests from the previous year, some of the requests were voluminous and complex in nature. The reduction of requests was in the category of administrative matters and call-up listings. The number of requests involving research programs and IRAP were slightly lower than previous year, yet consistent in their sophistication and complexity.

Section 9 of the Act provides for the extension of the statutory time limits if consultations are necessary or if the request is for a large volume of records and processing the request within the original time limit would unreasonably interfere with the operations of the organization. NRC invoked extensions in the case of five requests as consultations with third parties and another government department were necessary to comply with the request. In summary, out of seventeen (17) completed requests, thirteen (13) were completed within 30 days and under, three (3) were completed between 31 and 60 days and one (1) request between 61 to 120 days. All levels of NRC worked diligently to ensure a high performance in meeting statutory deadlines.

NRC is asked by other government organizations for its views on disclosure of information that originated within the National Research Council. This reporting year, thirty-five (35) consultations were received from other government departments. NRC works closely with the office of primary interest to respond effectively to these consultations.

The exemptions section of the Statistical Report is intended to identify the number of requests where specific types of exemptions were invoked. NRC involved exemptions pursuant to sections 19(1), 20(1)(a)(b)(c)(d), 21(1)(a)(b) and 23 of the Act. There is no significant trend in the application of exemptions except that IRAP and Research Programs often deal with contractual relationship with third parties.

Section 19 (Personal Information) was invoked five times and was applied to the information that is considered personal and where individual consent was not obtained. Section 20 (Third Party Information) was invoked nine times. The exemptions applied pursuant to section 20 involve confidential business information belonging to a third party. The third parties in question were consulted pursuant to section 27 of the Act and provided substantial rationales in support of the protection of their information.

In the past year, Section 21 (Advice, etc) was invoked four times. The information severed under this section is considered part of NRC's business operations which include internal advice, recommendations and deliberations to and between Senior NRC Officials. The release of this information would have compromised the integrity of NRC's decision-making process and the candidness of discussions, internal assessments, business plans and strategies. Section 23 (Solicitor – Client Privilege) was invoked once. The release of this information would reveal confidential information provided by NRC's legal advisors.

The figures, as reflected in the chart below, indicate the number of requests received and processed over the past three years. The figures do not reflect requests processed informally or other queries that have been received in the ATIP Office. In the coming fiscal year, NRC expects an increase in requests due to the recent budget announcement regarding IRAP funding and the results of the strategic review. Further, it is expected that the complexity of requests will continue.

The annual statistical report for the fiscal year 2008-2009 is included at the end of this chapter, Annex B.

The annual statistical report for the fiscal year 2008-2009 is included at the end of this chapter, Annex B.

Access-Related Training and Education

The ATIP Unit is committed to ongoing development and training. This year, the ATIP Officer participated in the Parliamentary Reporting Requirements training session organized by the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS). Both the ATIP Coordinator and ATIP Officer participated in regular TBS ATIP community meetings.

During the fiscal year, the ATIP Unit continued to provide information and advice to NRC directors, managers and staff, on an on-going basis. In particular, the ATIP Coordinator delivered an access awareness session to a group of seventeen Hiring Advisors within the Human Resources Branch. Another session on the access to information legislation was delivered in the context of a two-day orientation session for new Managers at NRC. Eleven participants were in attendance. Both of these sessions included information on the privacy legislation which has been accounted for in the Privacy Act annual report.

The ATIP Unit is working with the staff of Treasury Board to capture the information necessary to satisfy the requirements identified in the Management Accountability Framework, specifically with regards to restructuring of the Info Source Chapter. Additional information on this subject is provided in the final commentary on page 7.

Organizational Changes

In 2008-2009, NRC introduced a new organizational structure that established three new senior executive positions, Vice-President Human Resources, Vice-President Corporate Management & Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and an expanded portfolio under the Secretary General. Under the new role of Vice-President Corporate Management & CFO, the areas of business relate to asset management and include Finance Branch, the Information Management Services Branch and Administrative Services and Property Management. The Corporate Communications and Relations Branch and the Strategy and Development Branch will be transferred to the Secretary General's Portfolio.

Complaints

There were four new complaints made against NRC in 2008-2009. They were related to two access requests pertaining to IRAP programs (A-2008-0002/A-2008-0008). In both cases, the requestors are complaining about NRC's delay in responding to the request. The two complaints related to time delays have been reviewed by the Office of the Information Commissioner; one to be well-founded and the other unsubstantiated. The other two complaints related to the exemptions applied to withhold portions of records. They are currently under review by the Office of the Information Commissioner.

Two outstanding complaints from 2007-2008 relate to the application of exemptions (A-2007-0003/A-2007-0021). The latter relates to a workforce adjustment exercise. The complainant alleges that he was refused access to records which were exempted, that more records should exist and that some records were not received in the requested official language of choice. The other relates to a request for a licensing agreement with the Institute for Biological Sciences. The requestor complained about the exemptions that were applied. These two complaints remain under review with the Office of the Information Commissioner.

The outstanding complaint from 2006-2007 relates to the release of contract deliverables (A-2006-0019). From the perspective of NRC, this complaint has been addressed as additional records were provided shortly after the complaint. Although the Office of the Information Commissioner has not yet provided a final resolution to the file, NRC will no longer be reporting on this complaint in their future annual report.

The outstanding complaint from 2005-2006 regarding the existence of agreements of collaborative research, remains under the review by the Office of the Information Commissioner (A-2005-0019).

MAF and Info Source Commentary

This section addresses the challenges confronted by ATIP in relation to the Management Accountability Framework (MAF) and Info Source. Working solutions to these matters are also included in this section. For a small ATIP Office comprised of only one or two employees, the task of coordinating and completing all mandatory legislative requirements and obligations can become a considerable challenge. As a way of strengthening support, NRC consults and routinely meets with the staff of other small ATIP Offices to find common solutions to the increasing complexity of files and reporting demands.

The Management Accountability Framework provides a clear evaluation of the areas within ATIP that require improvements. However, as Info Source moves towards a more integrated model over a five-year phase, it seems unreasonable for TBS to continue to assess Info Source submissions as part of the MAF review. It would appear more advantageous to postpone the assessment of Info Source until a clear and concise model is provided to all government stakeholders. Despite the approach taken by TBS, NRC is committed to working closely with their staff to capture the information necessary to satisfy the requirements identified in the MAF.

NRC has developed a four-phased approach to restructure its entire Info Source Chapter based on the recent TBS directives. The first phase involves reworking the organizational structure based on the Program Activity Architecture (PAA). The second phase involves the integration of the classes of records and personal information banks according to the sub activities, as identified in the PAA. The third phase involves developing a collaborative process to elaborate the classes of records, descriptions and types. Further, this phase includes analyzing and addressing information gaps to strengthen the sub-activity based approach and to ensure TBS compliance. The fourth phase involves a close review of the personal information banks and assurance that the personal information collected, used and disclosed by NRC is identified in the information holdings. To assist in the first phase, the services of a casual employee has been engaged for a few months. NRC expects to have completed this four-phased approach within the next two to three fiscal years.

We anticipate that this new integrated model for Info Source will become a more effective and comprehensive tool for Canadians. Furthermore it may assist NRC in elaborating its institutional information holdings and in creating an opportunity for developing integrative approaches of information management.

Annex A: Delegation Order

Access to Information and Privacy Acts Delegation Order (PDF, 229 KB)

Annex B: Statistical Report

Report on the Access to Information Act (PDF, 170 KB)

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