Categorized | Canadian Politics

Students, temporary workers hired to help overloaded access-to-info offices

Posted on 27 May 2015 by admin

Charlie Angus

The federal government is using students and temp workers to bolster overwhelmed access to information offices, the Star has learned.

Departments struggling to deal with “surges” in the number of access to information requests are bringing in outside help to deal with the resulting backlog, internal Treasury Board documents show.

The situation is the result of a “critical shortage” of access to information (ATIP) analysts, according to one ATIP director, leading to “hundreds of casual workers that move from ATIP (office) to ATIP office.”

“On the note of (the) critical shortage of ATIP analysts, most ATIP offices cannot staff their vacant positions, which only exacerbates the influx situation,” wrote Monique McCulloch, the access to information director at Shared Services Canada. “The community needs to come together to administer a huge recruitment and development process . . . to rebuild the permanent capacity within the federal ATIP community.”

The documents, obtained under access to information law by the NDP, suggest surges typically start with journalists. After an initial wave of media requests, departments frequently receive more requests from businesses and the public.

Charlie Angus, the New Democrats’ ethics critic, accused the Conservative government of not putting sufficient resources in the access to information regime.

“That is a ridiculous situation,” Angus said in an interview on Monday.

“We’re talking about documents, if they’re redacted or refused, (that) really obstruct Canadians’ right to know. You need people with expertise in the law and the obligations to protect privacy, but also the obligation to disclose (information). That’s something you can’t just pick up, you know, from Kijiji.”

THE ISSUE BY THE NUMBERS

55,145 — Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault reported a 28-per-cent-increase in access to information requests in 2012-13, up to 55,145 requests filed that year. Complaints to the watchdog’s office about the government’s handling of requests also increased by 30 per cent that year.

7,000 — The Canadian Border Services Agency saw a surge of 7,000 new access to information requests between June and September 2012, all related to a new questionnaire developed by Citizenship and Immigration Canada that required travel info from CBSA. The questionnaire was put in place “unbeknownst” to the border agency, and resulted in a number of in-person visits from people seeking their information.

135 — Parks Canada received 135 requests from one person for more than 15 years worth of records. The request was called a “vexatious” “fishing expedition” that significantly gummed up the agency’s access to information process. The requester ultimately abandoned their request.

1983 —Canada’s access to information laws were put in place in 1983. Despite repeated calls from the information commissioner, researchers, and advocates, the legislation has never been substantially changed. Treasury Board President Tony Clement told the Star he believes the legislation needs a “meaningful” review, but there’s no time before the 2015 election.

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