COVID-19 impact on requests
The COVID-19 crisis has affected the processing of requests in many ways. Most federal employees, including ATIP Office staff, are working from home, and are unable to access the office to retrieve paper records or electronic records on higher-security networks that hold records classified as secret or above. As well, mailrooms, regional offices, and international offices may be closed.
In many cases, ATIP Offices are also unable to consult third parties outside government concerning the release of records they have provided to government, since those third parties are also affected by the crisis.
On March 20, 2020, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat issued an Access to Information and Privacy Implementation Notice advising institutions to make best efforts to respond to requests and to meet proactive publication requirements, in accordance with their operational realities and direction from public health authorities. The notice also asked institutions to notify requesters of their reduced capacity to respond to requests and the potential for delays. The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat also advised users of potential delays in processing requests.
Despite the challenges, institutions are finding ways to move forward on requests, within their individual circumstances, such as:
- offering requesters the option of searching only electronic records to respond to their request
- establishing new digital processes to replace paper-based business processes
- accessing government networks after-hours to work on requests
- using e-post to transmit records to requesters, instead of mail
In addition to these efforts, we continue to work to improve the systems that support access to information. For example, work is underway to enable the ATIP Online Request Service to send responses electronically to requesters, to reduce the use of paper and compact discs. Greater use of digital solutions will make the access to information process more resilient.
Proactive publication online is another tool for government to provide transparency and accountability to Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic. As announced by the Prime Minister on April 17, 2020, the Open Government Portal is hosting open data related to the applications received and processed under the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
The access to information review is an opportunity to explore how new tools and approaches could improve efficiency and make information more open and accessible to Canadians.
Requests received during the COVID-19 period
Data from federal online request services shows that the number of access requests dropped significantly during the initial weeks of COVID-19 emergency measures, then began to recover. As the graph below shows, between February 16, 2020 and May 9, 2020, 30,990 access to information and personal information requests were received through the online request services. About two-thirds of those requests were directed to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Figure 1 - Text version
|Date||Number of access to information requests received||Number of personal information requests received||Total number of requests received|
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