Annual Report to Parliament 2013-2014
Access to Information Act
Part I: General Information
Department of Justice
To better understand the context within which the ATIA is administered, this section provides background information about the Department.
The Department of Justice has a dual mandate. This mandate stems from the dual role of the Minister of Justice, who is also the Attorney General of Canada.
In support of the Minister of Justice, the Department is responsible for providing policy and program advice and direction through the development of the legal content of bills, regulations, and guidelines. In support of the Attorney General of Canada, the Department is responsible for litigating civil cases by or on behalf of the Federal Crown and for providing legal advice to federal law enforcement agencies and other government departments.
Access to Information Activities
The ATIP Coordinator is accountable for the development, coordination, and implementation of effective policies, guidelines, systems and procedures in order to enable efficient processing of requests under the ATIA. The Coordinator is also responsible for related policies, systems, and procedures stemming from the ATIA.
Activities of the ATIP Office include:
- Processing requests under the ATIA;
- Acting as spokesperson for the Department in dealings with the Treasury Board Secretariat, the Information Commissioner, and other government departments and agencies regarding the application of the ATIA;
- Responding to consultation requests submitted by other federal institutions on Department of Justice documents located in their files and on records that may be subject to solicitor-client privilege;
- Coordinating, reviewing, approving, and publishing new entries and modifications to Info Source, an annual Government of Canada resource that describes its organization and information holdings;
- Preparing the Annual Report to Parliament and other statutory reports, as well as other materials that may be required by central agencies;
- Developing policies, procedures, and guidelines for the orderly implementation of the ATIA by the Department;
- Providing advice regarding the ATIA, as well as promoting awareness, to ensure departmental respect of the obligations imposed on the Government;
- Monitoring departmental compliance with the ATIA, its regulations, and relevant procedures and policies.
Organization for the Implementation of Access to Information Activities
The ATIP Coordinator, who is also referred to as the ATIP Director, has full authority delegated by the Minister for the administration of the Act. See Part III: Delegation Order.
Within the ATIP Office, in proportion to the administration of the ATIA, 22 employees were dedicated on a full-time basis to the administration of the ATIA and related functions.
Officials of the Department were directly involved in the application of the ATIA by making recommendations concerning the disclosure of records and by ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Act.
The stages for processing requests are set out in the Processing Chart.
The reading rooms at the Department of Justice headquarters and those located in the regional offices across Canada make available to the public the most recent published version of the Info Source, as well as departmental publications and manuals. Many of these publications can be found on the Department of Justice and the Treasury Board Secretariat’s websites.
Salary and Administrative Expenditures
A total of 22 person-years were utilized on a full-time basis and one, on a part-time basis, in the administration of the ATIA. The salary expenditures amounted to $1,659,595.56.
The administrative expenditures amounted to $328,528.97 which includes professional services contracts.
These costs do not include resources expended by the Department’s program areas to meet the requirements under the Act.
The Department of Justice continues to strive to provide leadership and improve its performance in order to maintain the highest standards of service. For fiscal year 2013-2014, the ATIP Office has accomplished the following:
- To better serve Canadians, the Department of Justice has joined the Request and Pay Online pilot service that was launched on April 9, 2013. It is now possible for Canadians to submit requests under the Access to Information Act through an online channel. This channel also incorporates the Receiver General Buy Button service, enabling requesters to pay the requisite $5.00 application fee for access to information requests, which avoids the need to mail in a personal cheque with their request. The button also allows for substantial economy on the administrative processing of a physical cheque;
- To ensure that the consultation process remains as efficient as possible, the Department has developed guidelines for the ATIP community that clarify our role in requests that have been received by other federal government institutions pursuant to the Access to Information Act. Additionally, we have updated and communicated our service standards to assist the community in estimating the turnaround time for consultations with our Department. The timeframes are reviewed periodically to ensure that they remain current;
- Since the majority of consultations with our Office involve the application of solicitor-client privilege, we have also begun providing training to the ATIP community that focuses on the application of solicitor-client privilege;
- The Department of Justice continues to post its Annual Reports to Parliament as well as the summaries of completed requests to the Department’s Internet website, thereby improving communications with requesters and to promote transparency. This practice is in accordance with the Treasury Board Secretariat’s directives and policies as well as with the 10 principles of practice (see Appendix B) outlined on the ATIP Office’s website for the public;
- Created clear internal procedures and guidelines on the application of several sections of the Act , including s. 23 [solicitor-client privilege] legal billings, legal advice, litigation privilege, s. 26 [publications within 90 days], extensions, settlement privilege and grants and contributions. In addition, the Policy Portfolio has also amended its Grants and Contributions Application Form to include a caveat informing applicants that, with the exception of personal information, the applications will be released if an ATIP request is received;
- Continued to update its internal procedures in order to process ATIA requests more efficiently and to share its best practices with other government institutions; and
- Continued to reduce paper consumption by printing double-sided, as well as providing release packages electronically to requesters when appropriate.
Education and Training
ATIP officers regularly provide advice and informal training on the application of ATIP legislation to Departmental employees who must review relevant records requested under the ATIA.
Formal awareness information sessions are also provided to program areas within the Department. Particular emphasis is placed on those aspects of the Act that are directly related to the employees’ areas of responsibility. This fiscal year, these sessions were provided to the following groups:
- Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (10 employees);
- Deputy Minister’s Office, Communications Branch and the Ministerial Secretariat (12 employees); and
- Youth Justice and Strategic Initiatives Section (8 employees).
The Centre for Information and Privacy Law (CIPL) also offered training on different sections of the Act to the Department of Justice:
- Atlantic Regional Office; Veterans Affairs Canada, Legal Services; and officials (85 employees).
- During the Health Canada Legal Services’ Retreat (70 employees); and
- Cabinet Confidences to two officials in the Department’s Prairie and the Ontario Regional Offices.
In addition, formal training was offered through the Department of Justice’s Learning Program, for an additional 160 employees:
- The Fundamentals of ATIP (55 employees);
- What Justice Employees Need to Know About the Law (ATIP component) (43 employees); and
- Solicitor-Client Privilege Fundamentals (62 employees).
ATIP training is also part of the recommended courses under the values and ethics component of the Department’s Roadmap for new managers. An e-orientation deck is also posted on the Department’s Intranet site for employee consultation.
Furthermore, a key priority in 2013-2014 was to increase outreach activities for the wider ATIP community. As a complement to updating and communicating our service standards regarding consultations, the ATIP Office, in partnership with the CIPL, began offering a workshop that assists other practitioners in understanding solicitor-client privilege in the federal government context, when and how to apply the relevant exemptions to a record and when to consult the Department for additional input. This training was developed to share expertise for the purpose of increasing consistency within the community as well as to encourage best practices that would assist in making the consultation process between the Department and other institutions more efficient. These bilingual sessions were provided to the following institutions:
- Canada Border Services Agency (two sessions, for a total of 33 employees);
- Transport Canada (35 employees); and
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada (18 employees).
CIPL also provided training on behalf of the Treasury Board Secretariat to the Government of Canada ATIP Practitioners (57 participants).
In July 2013, the responsibility for determining whether information is excluded as a Cabinet Confidence under the Act was transferred from Privy Council Office to the Department of Justice. Accordingly, the Department of Justice, TBS and the Privy Council Office Legal Counsel have provided information sessions on Cabinet Confidences to over 200 employees.
The CIPL, on behalf of TBS, also provided an information session on the same issue to the Government of Canada Practitioners (approximately 30 employees).
To promote awareness, the ATIP Office also held an information kiosk during the international event Right to Know Week.
Moreover, ATIP employees regularly participate in collective awareness sessions with the ATIP Counsel to review recent jurisprudence and case law related to the ATIA. The ATIP Counsel participates in monthly ATIP Practice Group meetings during which information is exchanged and viable solutions are proposed. The Practice Group is open to all departmental counsel, including those from Legal Services Units, and its mandate is to discuss questions such as the right of access to information or privacy issues.
In addition to mentorship and partnership relationships, workshops and presentations are also regularly provided within the ATIP Office on various topics concerning the application of the Act and related policy and procedures. This allows ATIP employees to benefit from each other’s respective levels of experience and knowledge.
Finally, ATIP employees participate in training sessions, conferences, and seminars organized by the Treasury Board Secretariat or by various associations on matters relating to both access and privacy. These exchanges provide updates for employees in the development of ATIP and upcoming trends in this area.
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