CIRNAC’s compliance with Canada’s Access to Information Act

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Introduction

Access to information under the control of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) and its predecessors (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada) has long been problematic and is identified as an ongoing concern by the Independent Special Interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites associated with Indian Residential Schools in her Progress Update Report (November 2022) and Interim Report (June 2023).

An internal audit of CIRNAC’s response to information requests in 2014 included management’s plan to act on a recommendation to improve efficiency. We have asked CIRNAC for an update on the implementation and impact of this plan.

Meanwhile, in a series of posts, we aim to support the efforts of the Special Interlocutor and others to understand and overcome barriers to access to information pertaining to the history and legacy of relations between First Nations and Canada.

This first post outlines federal legislation and departmental policies and procedures that currently govern access to information under CIRNAC’s control. We also consolidate CIRNAC’s statistical summaries of its responses to access to information requests for 2018-19 to 2022-23.

The second post will describe and visualize key take-aways from our consolidated statistical summaries.

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Legislation

Canada’s Access to Information Act (ATIA) provides public access to records under the control of federal institutions, except for records subject to specific exemptions and exclusions. Overall responsibility for administering the ATIA falls to the Access to Information and Privacy Directorate (ATIP).

In August 2017, the Prime Minister announced the dissolution of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and the establishment of two new departments:  Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) and Indigenous Services Canada (ISC). Since then, the ATIP Directorate has provided shared services for CIRNAC and ISC through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). See “ATIP Directorate at CIRNAC” for details (accessed at https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1584543333033/1584543396738#sec1_2 on March 18, 2024).

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Policies and procedures

Policy on Access to Information, Government of Canada, June 28, 2023.

Directive on Proactive Publication under the Access to Information Act, including Glossary, Government of Canada, June 28, 2023.

Implementation notice from Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Access to Information Implementation Notice 2022-01: Inter-institutional Consultations, September 27, 2022.

Directive on Access to Information Requests, including Appendix B: Mandatory Procedures for Access to Information Training and Appendix D: Mandatory Procedures for Publishing Summaries of Completed Access to Information Requests, Government of Canada, July 22, 2022.

Supporting Tool for Access to Information and Personal Information Requests: Principles for Assisting Requesters, Treasury Board, July 18, 2022.

Report on the TBS Study of Best Practices for Access to Information Requests Subject to Particular Processing, Government of Canada, April 16, 2010.

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Internal audit

The Audit and Evaluation Sector of AANDC conducted audits, evaluations, management practices reviews or audits and other special studies of departmental programs and initiatives, including an Internal audit of Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Management, June 2014.

The audit noted “An Audit of Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Management was included in Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada’s (“AANDC’s” or the “Department’s”) 2014-2015 to 2016-2017 Risk-Based Audit Plan, approved by the Deputy Minister on February 6, 2014. This audit was identified as a priority as there has not been a recent audit of this area and because of the inherent complexity of ATIP management …” [p. 1]

The audit later acknowledged that “Prior to 2011-12, the Department had been cited by the Office of the Information Commissioner for having substantial deficiencies in its management of ATIP and had regularly failed to meet its statutory obligations. In 2011-12, AANDC focused efforts on improving the ATIP management process.” [p. 3]

The audit found that, through these efforts, the Department was largely complying with legislation and policy requirments, but noted that “there has been limited work on identifying and addressing opportunities to drive efficiencies within management of ATIP requests across the entire Department.” [p. 3]

The audit’s recommendations included that “The Corporate Secretary should clarify expectations, roles and responsibilities for driving efficiencies within ATIP Management, and establish related objectives and practices designed to improve process efficiency. Practices could include facilitating the sharing of best practices between Regions and Sectors; reporting on the ATIP Directorate’s performance against internal service standards; and, tracking the Department-wide level of effort required to process requests in order to monitor and identify improvements to efficiency.” [p. 19]

The Management Action Plan included specific actions to address this recommendation in 2014:

  1. The Corporate Secretariat will develop a comprehensive regional/sectoral operations manual that will ensure uniform best practices for the processing and retrieval of ATIP records across the Department for ATIP Liaison Officers in the sectors and regions.
  2. The Corporate Secretariat will add further details on compliance with additional internal ATIP service standards to its quarterly reports. Further, the Corporate Secretariat will continue to report on performance against internal service standards in the Corporate Secretariat’s quarterly reports, Treasury Board Secretariat statistical reports and Annual Reports to Parliament. …
  3. The Corporate Secretariat will liaise with the Treasury Board Secretariat Information and Privacy Policy Division (IPPD) to determine the options for tracking the Department-wide level of effort required to process requests in order to monitor and identify improvements to efficiency. [pp. 21-22]

Updates:

We submitted an ATIP request to CIRNAC for an update on the implementation and impact of these actions on the Department’s efficiency in related areas on April 10, 2024.

See also,

INAC, Internal Audit Manual 1.0, April 25, 2008.

CIRNAC, Audit and Evaluation Sector – Assessment and Investigation Services Branch – Charter, March 2019.

For a discussion of the internal audit process within AANDC, see Abele, F., Is evaluation a tool for social justice? Reconciliation? Control? —  Reflections on the Canadian experience in Indigenous affairs, 2013. Published in Better Indigenous Policies: The Role of Evaluation. Roundtable Proceedings. Canberra: Australian Government. Productivity Commission, 2013.

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External oversight

The Information Commissioner of Canada (IOC) publishes Access to Information Act Annual Reports (2013-14 to 2022-23 online).

See also,

Letter from the Information Commissioner of Canada to the Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Indigenous Peoples (APPA), March 7, 2024.

Special Report to Parliament, Access at issue: The challenge of accessing our collective memory; Systemic Investigation of Library and Archives Canada, April 26, 2022.

Letter from the Information Commissioner of Canadato the President of the Treasury Board – Observations from the Information Commissioner following meetings with various ministers (July 2021), July 8, 2021.

Observations and Recommendations from the Information Commissioner on the Government of Canada’s Review of the Access to Information Regime, January 2021.

Failing to Strike the Right Balance for Transparency, January 20, 2020.

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Monthly summaries and annual reports

Every institution subject to the ATIA is required to post monthly summaries of completed access to information requests and table annual reports on its administration of the Act in Parliament.

Canada’s Open Government Portal exposes a dataset of “Completed Access to Information Request Summaries” from federal institutions (accessed at https://open.canada.ca/data/en/dataset/0797e893-751e-4695-8229-a5066e4fe43c/resource/19383ca2-b01a-487d-88f7-e1ffbc7d39c2 on March 19, 2024), including from CIRNAC for most of 2015 to 2023. We are unable to locate completed access to information request summaries from CIRNAC for December 2021 to March 2022 inclusive and, on March 15, 2024, we asked both the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and CIRNAC to provide them.

CIRNAC’s annual reports to Parliament for 2018-19 to 2022-23 have been published on-line as HTML pages (accessed at https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1575131323136/1575131374706 on March 18, 2024). INAC’s annual reports to Parliament for 1997-98 to 2000-01 and 2004-05 to 2017-18 have been published online as PDF documents (accessed at https://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/201/301/weekly_acquisitions_list-ef/2017/17-26/publications.gc.ca/site/eng/9.505663/publication.html and https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1100100010931/1621273761636, respectively, on March 18, 2024). We are unable to locate annual reports to Parliament for 2001-02 to 2003-04 online and, in an email on March 15, 2024, we asked CIRNAC to provide them.

Updates:

As of March 27, 2024, we’d no acknowledgement from CIRNAC of our requests for these three annual reports to Parliament or these four months of missing Completed Access to Information Request Summaries – so we’ve submitted formal ATIP requests for this information.

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Consolidating CIRNAC’s annual reports

CIRNAC has published five annual reports (for 2018-19 to 2022-23) on its administration of the ATIA to Parliament. CIRNAC’s next annual report (for 2023-24) is due in September 2024. To provide an overview of CIRNAC’s administration of the ATIA, we have consolidated the department’s annual reports.

Subsection 94(5) of the ATIA allows a Minister to prescribe the form and content of her department’s annual report.  The consistency among CIRNAC’s annual reports has facilitated the job of their consolidation. Most differences are found between the annual reports for 2018-19 to 2020-21 compared to 2021-22 to 2022-23, with the latter group of annual reports generally providing additional information, including more details about:

  • requests brought forward from previous reporting period
  • requests carried over to the following reporting period
  • channels (online, email, mail, etc) used for formal requests
  • several aspects of informal requests
  • consultations from government of Canada institutions and other organizations carried over to the following reporting period
  • initial and final reports from the Information Commissioner further to investigations of public complaints

The only information disregarded in the latter group are associated with the complete vs partial disclosure of records:

  • pages processed and pages disclosed
  • format (paper vs electronic) of pages disclosed

Our plan is to correlate CIRNAC’s annual reports with the dataset of “Completed Access to Information Request Summaries,” identify trends over time, and compare our analysis with CIRNAC’s commentary.

Meanwhile, we are publishing our consolidation of CIRNAC’s annual reports (2018-19 to 2022-23) under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. If you find use for our work, please credit Paul Allen (https://paulallen.ca).

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Change log

Date Changes Files for download
2024-03-25 Combined Tab: 1.1.1 Formal requests received and Tab: 1.1.2 Formal requests closed into Tab: 1.1 Formal requests

Pivoted rows and columns in Tab: 4.5.1 Pages processed disclosed for greater consistency with other Tables

Added Totals for reporting periods where these were missing

Highlighted backgrounds of headings, totals using CIRNAC’s colour-scheme to improve readability

Reformatted row titles (with no change in cell entries) in Tab: 4.7.1 Reasons late, Tab: 7.1.1 Consultations received, Tab: 7.2 Canada Consults recommend, Tab: 9.2 Investigations Findings, and Tab: 11.2 Human resources

ODS, XLSX
2024-03-23 Original version ODS, XLSX

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