ARCHIVED - Health Canada - Access to Information Act - Annual Report 2009-2010

Health Canada
2010
ISBN: 978-1-100-16141-9 (PDF Version)
Cat. No.: H1-9/3-1-2010E (PDF Version)
HC Pub.: 110014(PDF Version)

Table of Contents

Introduction

I. Access to Information Act

The Access to Information Act (the Act) gives the Canadian public a right to access information contained in federal government records, subject to certain specific and limited exceptions.

The Act requires the head of every federal government institution to submit an Annual Report to Parliament on the administration of the Act following the close of each fiscal year. This report describes how Health Canada fulfilled its access to information responsibilities during the fiscal year 2009-2010.

II. About Health Canada

Health Canada was established to help the people of Canada maintain and improve their health. Health Canada is also committed to improving the lives of all Canadians and making this country's population among the healthiest in the world as measured by longevity, lifestyle and effective use of the public health care system.

Health Canada develops, implements and enforces regulations, legislation, policies, programs, services and initiatives and works with other federal partners, the provinces and territories. As administrator of the Canada Health Act, Health Canada ensures that the principles of Canada's universal health care are respected, allowing Canadians to be confident in the services they receive from the public health care system. The Minister of Health is also responsible for direct administration of another 18 statutes including the Food and Drugs Act, the Pest Control Products Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Health Canada also provides health services to First Nations peoples and to Inuit communities.

Health Canada has regional offices in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic and Northern Region.

For more information about Health Canada, please visit our website at: www.health.gc.ca

III. Summary of Departmental Changes (organization, programs, operations, or policy)

In January 2009 Health Canada launched "Improving Together", an initiative aimed at transforming the way we work as a department to build a more collaborative organization. Each of the nine initiatives that comprise Improving Together is directly linked to a departmental activity: Science; Policy; Internal Services; Regulatory activities; Communications and consultation; New partnership models for First Nations and Inuit; Regional activities; Compliance and enforcement; Grants and contributions.

Access to Information Infrastructure

I. The Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Division

The Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Division within the Planning, Integration and Management Services Directorate, Corporate Services Branch is responsible for administering the Access to Information Act within Health Canada. In 2009-2010, administration of the Act was performed by 20.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees.

The ATIP Division:

  • responds to access to information requests;
  • promotes awareness and provides training on the Access to Information Act to Health Canada employees;
  • develops corporate-wide access to information protocols and practices to guide access to information; and
  • works with the Information Commissioner, other government departments and agencies, provincial ministries of health and other key stakeholders.

II. Delegation of Authority

The Delegation Order is attached as Appendix A.

III. Reading Rooms

Section 71 of the Access to Information Act requires government institutions to provide facilities where members of the public may obtain information such as Info Source. The following Health Canada location in Ottawa has been designated as a public reading room.

Access to Information and Privacy Division
1010 Somerset Street West, 1st Floor, Room A 109
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0K9

Requests under the Access to Information Act - Statistical Figures and Interpretation and Explanation

I. Statistical Report

Health Canada's statistical report summarizing Access to Information Act activity is attached as Appendix B and covers the period between April 1, 2009 and March 31, 2010.

II. Number of Access Requests and Case Load

Number of Access Requests

The number of new access to information requests totalled 1481 for 2009-2010. Health Canada processed 1504 requests. This shows a substantial improvement over fiscal year 2008-2009, during which more access requests were received than completed.

Case Load

During fiscal year 2009-2010, Health Canada completed processing 1504 of 2048 (73%) active requests (1481 new requests and 567 requests carried over from fiscal year 2008-2009). The 544 remaining requests (27%) were carried over into fiscal year 2010-2011.

The volume of pages requiring line-by-line review - and the associated work - increased tremendously to 442,422 pages in 2009-2010 compared to 341,253 in 2008-2009. This represents an increase of almost 30% in the productive effort of our staff.

Furthermore, an analysis of the statistical figures reveals a 58% increase in the number of requests that were completed (1,504) during fiscal year 2009-2010 compared to the number of requests that were completed (950) during fiscal year 2008-2009. 23 fewer requests were carried forward at the end of fiscal year 2009-2010 compared to end of fiscal year 2008-2009 (544 versus 567).

ATI Requests Received and Completed by Fiscal Year

Access to Information Requests Received and Completed by Fiscal Year

Note: More ATI requests are completed than received when the institution completes requests that were carried-over from previous years as well as those received within the fiscal year. This occurred in previous years as well (2004/05, 2006/07 and 2007/08)

ATI Requests Received and Pages Reviewed by Fiscal Year

Access to Information Requests Received and Pages Reviewed by Fiscal Year

III. Disposition of Requests Completed

Disposition of Requests Completed

Completed requests were classified as follows:

All disclosed - Of the 1504 (18.2%) completed requests; the requesters received full disclosure of relevant records in 274 instances.

Disclosed in part - In 756 cases (50.3%), requesters received partial disclosure of relevant records.

Nothing disclosed (excluded) - In 3 instances (0.2%) the applicant received no information because the record was excluded under the Act.

Nothing disclosed (exempt) - In 43 cases (2.9%) all the requested information was exempted under the Act.

Unable to process - Health Canada received 208 requests (13.8%) for which there were no records.

Abandoned - Applicants abandoned 211 requests (14%).

Transferred - 7 requests (0.5%) were transferred to other government institutions because the relevant records were not under Health Canada's control.

Treated Informally - Health Canada treated 2 requests informally (0.1%).

IV. Exemptions Invoked

This section categorizes the exemptions invoked to refuse disclosure by section(s) of the Act. Note that these numbers should not be added because information can be denied under more than one exemption. For example, if five different exemptions were cited to deny one request, the reported total would be five.

The most frequently cited exemptions are:

  1. Section 19 - Personal information
  2. Section 20 - Third party information
  3. Section 21 - Advice
  4. Section 13 - Information obtained in confidence
  5. Section 14 - Federal-provincial affairs
  6. Section 16 - Law enforcement and investigation
  7. Section 23 - Solicitor-client privilege

V. Exclusions Cited

The Access to Information Act does not apply to published material, material available to the public for purchase or for public reference (section 68). Nor does it apply to confidences of the Queen's Privy Council, with some exceptions (section 69). Requests containing proposed exclusions under section 69 require consultation with the Privy Council Office.

Furthermore, certificate (69.1(1)) under Canada Evidence Act does not apply to the disclosure of information contained in a record issued. Health Canada did not exclude any information under 69.1(1).

VI. Completion Time

Health Canada was able to respond within 30 days or less in 569 (27.4%) of completed cases. The remaining requests were completed within 31 to 60 days in 230 cases (11.1%), 61 to 120 days in 219 cases (10.6%) and 121 or more days in 486 cases (23.4%).

VII. Extensions

Legal extensions were most frequently invoked to provide time to search through voluminous records - 208 requests (37%) needed an extension of 30 days or less, and 353 (63%) needed an extension of more than 30 days. In 14 cases, Health Canada invoked extensions of 30 days or less to complete consultations; in 141 cases, extensions of more than 30 days were needed. For consultation of third parties, 21 requests needed extensions of 30 days or less; more than 30 days were required for third party consultations for 370 requests.

VIII. Translations

No translations were required to respond to 2009-2010 access requests.

IX. Method of Access

"Method of Access" refers to the method that applicants have chosen to access their records. Applicants can choose to receive copies of their records or to examine the records at a Health Canada facility.

These statistics are based only on the requests where Health Canada was able to identify and process the records for the individual - in the cases where no records were disclosed, no method of access has been identified.

Copies of the original records was the preferred method of access in all cases (1030).

X. Fees

Health Canada's imaging software allows the department to respond to formal ATI requests by CD-ROM. This saves requesters significant amounts of money, as it removes the need to charge for photocopies. There was no charge for photocopies in 2009-2010.

The Act authorizes fees for certain processing of formal requests under the Act (the fee structure is prescribed in ATI Regulations). However, Health Canada cannot charge fees for reviewing records, overhead or shipping, nor does it charge for the first five hours needed to search for a record or prepare any part of it for disclosure (required by section 11 of theAct).

During the year, Health Canada collected $6,655.00 in application fees and $11,996.50 in search fees. In total the Receiver General collected $18,651.50 in fees. In addition, Health Canada waived $5,839.95 for 91 requests. In some cases, these were deemed to be in the public interest; in others the fees were waived to avoid hardship to the requester.

XI. Costs

Health Canada spent a total of $1,854,964.80. Of this total: salaries accounted for $1,284,611.90 and administration for $570,352.90. Staffing for the fiscal year amounted to 20.50 employees. These figures do not include the time spent by the large cohort of subject matter experts in the program areas whose expertise is relied upon to help determine the sensitivity of the scientific and technical information that is often requested under the Act.

XII. Training and Awareness

Training for ATIP Analysts
To provide opportunities for the analyst community, Health Canada continues using the identified core competencies required at each skill level - from the junior analyst to the more seasoned team leader - and documenting the available training support analysts. Training and coaching were made available to all employees.

Training and Awareness Initiatives for HC employees
Health Canada continues to delivers general training to raise employees' awareness of their responsibilities under the Act, and specialized training to respond to clients' needs. Health Canada delivered 10 training courses with 134 attendees during the fiscal year.

In addition, Information Management (IM) Awareness sessions, delivered with colleagues in Records Management and Security Management, were used as an introduction to ATIP, attracting 124 additional employees. This approach highlights horizontal linkages between ATIP, Security, and Records Management. Employees who attend these sessions leave more aware of their responsibilities and more able to responsibly handle information at Health Canada.

Complaints and Court Applications for Reviews

I. Complaints to the Information Commissioner

During 2009-2010, 44 complaints under the Access to Information Act were filed with the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada (OIC) in relation to 41 access requests. 32 of those complaints (72%) concerned the length of time Health Canada took to respond to requesters. The remaining 12 complaints (28%) related to exemptions applied, fees collected and requests for which there were no responsive records.

Considering the large number of the access requests submitted to Health Canada in 2009-2010 (1481) and keeping in mind their complexity and the sensitive nature of the responsive information, the department takes pride in the fact that only one complaint was lodged for every 36 access requests (2.7%) and that these complaints pertained almost exclusively to the time aspect (delays). Of those 12 complaints that pertain to aspects other than the time frames, 4 were categorized as "resolved" (there are 8 complaints where no findings have been received from the OIC to date) and 0 were categorized as "well founded" by the Information Commissioner.

II. Types of Complaints and their Disposition

Subject of Complaint Number of Complaints Final Disposition by OIC
Time Extension 4
  • 2 Not Well Founded; no action required
  • 1 Resolution Mediated; remedial action taken
  • 1 No finding received from OIC to date
Delay 24
  • 6 Abandoned; no action required
  • 2 Well Founded; no action required
  • 12 Resolution Mediated; remedial action taken
  • 4 No finding received from OIC to date
Deemed Refusal 4
  • 2 Resolution Mediated; remedial action taken
  • 2 No findings received from OIC to date
Exemptions 6
  • 1 Abandoned; no action required
  • 1 Not Well Founded; no action required
  • 4 No findings received from OIC to date
Fees 2
  • 2 No findings received from OIC to date
Other (typically complaint pertain to the general processing of the access request) 3
  • 1 Resolution Mediated; remedial action taken
  • 1 Dismissed; no action required
  • 1 No findings received from OIC to date
Refusal (Exemption) 1
  • 1 No finding received from OIC to date
Totals 44
  • 7 Abandoned
  • 3 Not Well Founded
  • 2 Well Founded
  • 16 Resolution Mediated
  • 1 Dismissed
  • 15 No findings received from OIC to date

III. Applications/Appeals Submitted to the Federal Court or the Federal Court of Appeal

There were no applications or appeals submitted to the Federal Court or the Federal Court of Appeal during fiscal year 2009-2010.

IV. Health Canada Responses to Recommendations raised by other Agents of Parliament (e.g. Auditor General)

There were no recommendations raised by other Agents of Parliament during fiscal year 2009-2010.

Enhancing Support and Sustaining Compliance

Senior management at Health Canada is fully engaged in access to information issues in the department. In February 2009, Senior Management Board (SMB) endorsed an access to information action plan for the department. The continued support of the SMB for the access to information function, clearly illustrate that access to information is a priority for the department. In addition, Health Canada's senior management has been actively supporting the transformation of access to information at Health Canada, an effort to address key compliance issues in a truly transformative and collaborative fashion.

Health Canada implemented its Access to Information Transformation Action Plan, which began in the fall of 2008, with much of this work continuing throughout the 2009-2010 fiscal year. The Action Plan addresses challenges in meeting legislative requirements and includes governance of access to information at Health Canada, partnerships with both internal clients and other government institutions, supporting release readiness and teamwork, integration of collaborations with offices of primary interest, and the need to strengthen the access to information operations workforce. Key successes resulting from the implementation of the Action plan include a 58% increase in files closed over the past fiscal year as well as an 18% reduction in complaints by requestors to the OIC. Further successes are outlined below:

Key successes of the Action Plan:

  • Health Canada follows the delegated authority of the access to information coordinator and has replaced the "HI-SENS" (high sensitivity) approval process with a notification process that results in a reduction of delays;
  • Health Canada (to ensure that they are reasonable and legitimate) has implemented a graduated approval process for the invoking of extensions. The Early Intake Unit (EIU) was created in 2008-2009, which consists of assigning the administrative tasks that comprise the processing of access requests to clerical/administrative staff, thus allowing the ATI Analysts to concentrate on the technical aspects of that process. In 2009-2010 The EIU delivered by providing outstanding support to analysts, streamlining the administration of access request processing and provided rigour in the use of extensions;
  • In February 2009, the Departmental Senior Management Board - Operations endorsed the creation of a Working Group for program areas to collaborate with ATIP Division. This Working Group is comprised of ATIP personnel, Liaisons and Legal personnel from program branches, and is charged with the development of best practices and processes for the administration and processing of requests received under the Access to Information Act. This Working Group has supported a significant reduction in retrieval times for program areas;
  • Health Canada began a manual clean up of data contained in its case-management system to ensure the integrity of the information contained therein; and,
  • Health Canada developed and implemented a file processing checklist that encourages both Analysts and Team Leaders to review and document the critical steps required to complete the processing of access to information requests. Upon final review of a request, this time-saving tool provides the assurance to the signing authority that all necessary steps in the process have been undertaken, reducing the time needed for a review of the file by the signing authority.

Health Canada is in the process of implementing a number of departmental records management initiatives that support more efficient search and retrieval responses for records related to access to information requests. These initiatives include RDIMS (a records-management system) roll-out to 1200 users, and an initiative by several areas including several branches in the Department to better manage e-records repositories and reduce reliance on paper records. These initiatives will support better and more efficient retrieval of records in response to ATI requests.

Moving forward, Health Canada is taking a Department approach to enhancing compliance with the Access to Information Act and will be focusing on the following five priorities:

  1. Requests will be completed on time, every time;
  2. Reducing files designated Hi-Sens will increase efficiencies in responding to requestors;
  3. Increasing proactive disclosures to increase information available to the public, thereby reducing the need to file formal access to information requests for this information;
  4. Improving negotiations with requestors to more clearly understand the requests, clarify scope and provide requestors with information that they require; and,
  5. Reduce backlog of files from previous years that are not yet closed.

Health Canada is confident that the actions taken as well as the initiatives in progress will enhance the Department's compliance with the Access to Information Act as well as increase service to requestors.

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