Thursday, April 15, 2010

Monitoring Canada's Access to Information Act

A reader pointed me at a report from the Canadian Information Commissioner on Systemic Issues Affecting Access to Information in Canada [PDF, large]. In response to complaints of continual delays and poor implementation of the Act, the Information Commissioner has started monitoring and preparing report cards on individual departments. This year, they assessed 24 agencies, responsible for 88% of all AIA requests filed. The headline result? None of them had an average response time within the statutory 30-day limit. Overall, just 57% of requests are processed within the statutory time limit. The government is basically ignoring its own law.

The report includes a report card for each department, showing the number of requests it processed, the "deemed refusal rate" (number not processed within 30 days, average response time, details on complaints, and so forth. Much of this is possible because departments are required to annually report these statistics - which is something we should do here. It also reports on the leadership and administrative structures of agencies, which in some cases has produced a dramatic turnaround. This reporting has produced change - the Department of Justice has dropped its deemed refusal rate from 40% to 4% and improved its rating from "F" to "A" in response to public scrutiny of its record. But in other cases - e.g. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, which has a deemed refusal rate of 60% and an average response time of 160 days - it doesn't seem to be doing much. In these cases, political leadership is required to make the public service comply with the law.

It would be interesting to see similar statistics for New Zealand. Unfortunately, the Ombudsmen's office is a neutral arbiter rather than a monitoring body, so there's no centralised collection. But departments will be collecting statistics internally, which means they can be requested. Maybe I'll give it a go.