The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) is a federal agency that promotes and supports research and research training in the social sciences and humanities.
SSHRC is pleased to provide its annual report on the administration of the Access to Information Act, as required by section 72 of the Act. Annual Reports are tabled in Parliament in accordance with this same section of the Act.
The Act provides Canadians with a right of access to information in records under the control of a government institution in accordance with the principle that government information should be available to the public, that necessary exceptions to the right of access should be limited and specific, and that decisions on the disclosure of government information should be reviewed independently of government.
Administration of the Access to Information Act
At SSHRC, processing requests under the Access to Information Act and providing support and advice on its administration is the responsibility of the manager, Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) and Corporate Operations. The ATIP office is located within SSHRC’s Corporate Strategy and Performance Division and the manager, ATIP and Corporate Operations reports to its executive director. During the period covered by this report, the manager, ATIP and Corporate Operations spent approximately one-and-a-half days per week processing requests and administering the various requirements of Treasury Board in connection with the Act.
All formal requests and complex informal requests are handled by the ATIP office. Program and other divisions may respond to other informal requests for information as appropriate. The ATIP office holds full records of all access to information requests received within the last two years.
SSHRC’s president and senior management are kept informed of key decisions and developments in the administration and implementation of the Act, as appropriate.
When advice on the administration of the Act is required, it is sought from one or several of the following: the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS), Department of Justice legal counsel, the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada (OIC), SSHRC’s ATIP consultant and/or other federal government ATIP offices.
Access to Information Act Delegation Order
A copy of SSHRC’s delegation order for the Access to Information Act is attached. The order states that the persons holding the positions of executive vice-president; executive director, Corporate Strategy and Performance; and the manager, ATIP and Corporate Operations, are designated to exercise or perform most of the powers, duties and functions of the head of a government institution under the Act insofar as they may be exercised or performed in relation to SSHRC.
Statistical Report for Fiscal Year 2014-2015
The statistical report for the period of April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015 is appended.
Nine formal requests under the Access to Information Act were received by SSHRC in the 2014-2015 fiscal year. This is a slight decrease from 2013-2014, in which 13 formal requests were received, and is slightly lower than SSHRC’s average of 13 requests per year over the previous four fiscal years.
Formal Requests Received
Three of these requests were received from the academic sector, and six from the private sector. Six requests from the previous year were carried over to 2014-2015 and were closed in that fiscal year. One request received in 2014-2015 was carried over to the subsequent fiscal year.
Of the requests closed during the reporting period, seven requests were processed in less than 15 days and one request was processed in 15 to 30 days. Three requests were completed in 31 to 60 days, and three requests were processed in 61 to 120 days. These latter three requests were carried over from 2013-2014 and required consultations and/or extensive search time. All records were disclosed in electronic format.
For two of the requests, portions of the documents were exempted in accordance with section 19 (1) of the Access to Information Act, which pertains to personal information of individuals other than the requestor. For four of the requests, portions of the documents were exempted in accordance with section 20 (1) (b) of the Act, which pertains to financial, commercial, scientific or technical information that is confidential information supplied to a government institution by a third party and is treated consistently in a confidential manner by the third party. In two cases, no records responsive to the request were located. Four of the requests were abandoned.
SSHRC received and completed 10 consultations from other Government of Canada institutions and three consultations from other organizations in the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
Education and Training
Throughout the year, staff and management are reminded and encouraged to consult the ATIP office on any issues that might affect the implementation of the Act when and where appropriate.
The manager, ATIP and Corporate Operations delivered, during 2014-2015, two training sessions to approximately 32 staff members. One session was provided to the Chairs Secretariat, a tri-agency group housed within SSHRC composed of SSHRC, Natural Sciences and Engineering Council (NSERC) and Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) employees. The other session was the annual training opportunity open to all SSHRC staff. The sessions covered the principles of the access to information legislation, key concepts and definitions, SSHRC’s procedures for processing both formal and informal access to information requests, and employee responsibilities with respect to the Act.
SSHRC’S New or Revised Policies, Guidelines and Procedures Related to Access to Information
No new or revised access to information policies or guidelines were formally implemented during this past fiscal year. As of April 1, 2014, SSHRC began using Access Pro software (a case management and redaction tool) to process and track all access to information requests. This software has grealty improved the ATIP office’s ability to monitor timelines and keep detailed records of all activities undertaken with respect to the requests.
SSHRC’s 2014 Info Source update was published in January 2015. In accordance with the Info Source Decentralized Publication requirements, the chapter aligns with SSHRC’s 2014-2015 Program Alignment Architecture (PAA). Several substantive improvements to the chapter were made, both in response to feedback from TBS on the 2013 publication and based on SSHRC’s own review of the material. Several SSHRC-specific classes of records were updated, one standard Personal Information Bank that had been deregistered was removed and the following sections were added: Manuals, Additional Information and Reading Room. SSHRC will update its Info Source chapter as needed in order to ensure continued harmonization with the agency’s PAA and to confirm the accuracy and clarity of information.
Complaints to the Office of the Information Commissioner
Six complaints pertaining to requests submitted to SSHRC were filed with the OIC during the 2014-2015 fiscal year. These complaints were related to the reasonableness of extensions taken, search fees, applied exemptions and the completeness of record retrieval.
The OIC has also carried out investigations of complaints in previous years and SSHRC has cooperated fully in these processes. The complaints have typically concerned the application of exemptions and record retrieval. The OIC resolved, and issued a report of finding in relation to sixcomplaint investigations over the course of the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
Monitoring processing times
The executive director, Corporate Strategy and Performance was regularly kept apprised (normally on a weekly basis) by the manager, ATIP and Corporate Operations of all matters and developments pertaining to the requests, including processing time, consultations undertaken and any necessary extensions. The transition to the use of Access Pro software has greatly facilitated the ATIP office’s ability to monitor the time to process and respond to requests.