Report denounces long delays in accessing Library and Archives Canada information

“Nearly 80% of requests processed by LAC did not meet statutory deadlines,” Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard wrote in her report.

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By only responding to 20% of requests for information before the expiry of the prescribed deadlines, Library and Archives Canada is not fulfilling its obligations under federal access to information laws.

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And Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez – writes Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard in a scathing report tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday – does not understand the “critical situation” unfolding in the ALC, based on hundreds of complaints of waits sometimes of several years for answers to access to information requests.

“The complaint is well-founded as the investigation revealed that for the period under investigation, nearly 80% of requests processed by LAC did not comply with the timeframes required by law,” Maynard wrote in his report. , recounting the situation of his office. year-long investigation of 213 delay complaints.

Records in the custody of LAC archivists include millions of maps and charts, historical records of military personnel, government records dating back to Confederacy, photographs and audio recordings.

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Most of the requests made to LAC between April 1, 2020 and February 4, 2021 were for access to historical military archives, about 56%.

Requests for government records accounted for 43% of requests over the same period, but were also the source of 95% of complaints.

Between April 1 and August 31, 2021, LAC had 2,093 outstanding requests awaiting processing – a number that consists of 958 new requests received during the reporting period and 1,945 remaining requests from the previous year. .

“Although LAC received 485 fewer access requests in 2020-21 compared to 2019-20, its backlog of files increased by 792,” Maynard wrote.

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“LAC must immediately consider allocating additional resources to address the enormous workload issues facing its ATIP unit. This is a deplorable and critical situation that the minister cannot ignore. LAC will need his full support in order to secure adequate funding for LAC’s ATIP operations.

Section 7 of the Access to Information Act requires government departments to respond to access requests within 30 days.

LAC took an average of 102 days to respond in 2020, the report said, rising to 115 days last August.

Issues regarding delays caused by often years-long waits for consultations with other departments, as well as the lack of federal policy regarding the declassification of documents, will be the subject of a report due in May.

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While acknowledging that COVID has seen dozens of BAC employees unable to access job sites, Maynard wrote that the pandemic does not release their obligations under the law.

“To protect the quasi-constitutional right of access, institutions must be able to process requests at any time.”

Maynard’s report makes 10 recommendations, including directing LAC officials to use their authority to respond to requests for consultation with other departments and to improve staff capacity to handle requests for classified information and to balance funding between units of the department.

Rodriguez, the report says, was briefed on the commissioner’s findings and recommendations in January.

Although the minister tabled a response to the report in February, the commissioner was less than satisfied with his response.

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“While the Minister acknowledges the serious challenges that prevent LAC from meeting its legislative obligations under the Act, his response lacks any sense of urgency or assurance that changes are underway,” reads the report. .

“Furthermore, in some cases, the minister did not directly respond to my recommendations.”

The Minister’s response, she wrote, acknowledged the challenges posed by COVID to LAC employees, pledged to redeploy staff who were not already involved in class action claims or those otherwise considered “urgent”, and will continue to respond to ATI’s requests in chronological order.

“The minister’s response does not address or identify strategies to address the backlog,” Maynard wrote.

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“Instead, the response prioritizes requests categorized as urgent or those related to class action lawsuits first.”

The response, she wrote, suggested a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the problem and urged the minister to prioritize reducing the backlog of claims.

In response to recommendations that LAC publish its progress on their implementation and produce quarterly updates, the Minister responded that semi-annual reports would instead be produced.

“Perhaps most disappointing is that the measures proposed by the Minister will not be enough to reduce response times for Canadians seeking access to records held by LAC,” Maynard wrote.

“I sincerely hope that the half-year results that BAC intends to publish on its website will prove me wrong.”

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Spokesperson Laura Scaffidi assured national post that Rodriguez takes access to information seriously, explaining that he ordered that a task force be created to address concerns.

“LAC is working to reduce the backlog and develop a long-term plan,” she said.

The Trudeau Liberals’ election victory in 2015 was accompanied by promises to overhaul Canada’s decades-old access to information laws, campaigning for government data to be openly and freely accessible by default.

A 2017 report by then-Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault accused the government of breaking that promise, referring to long waits for requests to various government departments and the glaring lack of any mention of transparency funding in the federal budget of that year.

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