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Annual Report on the Administration of the Access to Information Act
April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016

Introduction

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. The ATIP Office provides a monthly report to the Executive Director of Corporate Strategy and Performance and to the Executive Vice-President, Corporate Affairs. This monthly report enumerates current formal, informal Access to Information requests, as well as complaints to the Office of the Information Commissioner.

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 2015-2016

The statistical report for the period of April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016 is appended.

Eighteen formal requests under the Access to Information Act were received by SSHRC in the 2015-2016 fiscal year. This is an increase from 2014-2015, in which nine formal requests were received, and is higher than SSHRC’s average of 12 requests per year over the previous four fiscal years

Formal Requests Received
2011-2012 2012-2013 2013-2014 2014-2015 2015-2016
Formal Requests 19 8 13 9 18

Six of these requests were received from the academic sector, and eight from the private sector. One request from the previous year were carried over to 2015-2016 and were closed in that fiscal year. Two requests received in 2015-2016 were carried over to the subsequent fiscal year.

Of the requests closed during the reporting period, three requests were processed in less than 15 days and seven requests was processed in 15 to 30 days. Five requests were completed in 31 to 60 days, and two requests were processed in 61 to 120 days. These latter two requests required consultations and/or extensive search time. Ten records were disclosed in electronic format; two records were disclosed in paper format.

For eleven 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 one case, no records responsive to the request were located. Three of the requests were abandoned.

SSHRC received and completed eight consultations from other Government of Canada institutions and no consultations from other organizations in the 2015-2016 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 2015-2016, one training session to approximately 15 staff members (the annual learning/training opportunity open to all SSHRC staff). The session 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.

ATIP staff also sent an information memo to senior management in Research Programs to outline the importance of record management in relation to ATIP-requests.

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. SSHRC’s ATIP staff have worked with staff in Research Programs to develop text relating to access to information in numerous memorandums of understanding, especially in relation to joint-funding initiatives.  This has resulted in a standardized text that outlines roles and responsibilities for both managing information and addressing access to information requests.

SSHRC’s 2015 Info Source update was published in March 2016. In accordance with the Info Source Decentralized Publication requirements, the chapter aligns with SSHRC’s 2015-2016 Program Alignment Architecture (PAA). Several substantive improvements to the chapter were made, based on SSHRC’s own review of the material. Specifically, SSHRC updated its Personal Information Bank (PIB) for Grants and Awards Management (SSHRC PPU 055) to include personal information collected in SSHRC’s updated Achievement Reports and specific instances where SSHRC shares personal information with government organizations that are jointly funding SSHRC researchers. SSHRC is launching a two-year project to update its Info Source chapter and PIBs.  This project will ensure complete transparency in how SSHRC collects, uses and discloses personal information.

Complaints to the Office of the Information Commissioner

Two complaints pertaining to requests submitted to SSHRC were filed with the OIC during the 2015-2016 fiscal year. These complaints were related to the  applied exemptions and the duty to assist.

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 search fees. The OIC resolved, and issued a report of finding in relation to one complaint investigation over the course of the 2015-2016 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.