Access to Information - Pt.2
May 10th, 2015
RestoreCSA is unpopular at Industry Canada, probably because we’re not conveniently going away. We submitted some Access to Information (ATIP) requests to Industry Canada last year and we received some awfully interesting responses from them. So we submitted some more.
In one case, we asked for all the records, notes, briefing papers, etc. related to our 2013 letter to Foreign Affairs regarding Section 46 applicability to the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). What we received in response was a copy of our 2013 letter to Foreign Affairs. That’s all. Apparently Foreign Affairs either did absolutely nothing on this file or they chose to release nothing of what they had done. Given the severity of a Section 46 filing, its likely the latter.
Regular readers will recall that we once asked for the email records of the former Industry Canada civil servant, Ms France Pegeot, who was simultaneously a senior public servant while serving on the Board of Directors of the CSA. We were advised that accessing these records would take 1,583 hours of time for which we would receive a $15,830 invoice.
We also requested copies of Industry Canada’s correspondence related to our company, PS Knight Co Ltd, and the CSA and its affiliates. We wanted to know what they had been saying about us, what they had said to CSA about us, and what orchestrating between them was underway. Well, Industry Canada advised that this search will require 27,983 hours of time and we have accordingly been invoiced for $279,780.
In sum then, we sent two information requests and received two invoices of $15,830 and $279,780 respectively.
Naturally, we submitted a new ATIP request, this time for the working papers from which these two ATIP invoices were generated.
The working papers that we received contained some startling revelations. For instance, Industry Canada informed us that one of their offices contain “10 x 4 drawer cabinets and 10 x 2 drawer cabinets and 10 finance boxes and 4 x G8 boxes [being] typical banker’s boxes.” Somewhere therein were the files we were seeking. According to Industry Canada, it would take 720 hours to search the cabinets and 70 more hours to search through the 4 banker’s boxes.
Does that make sense to you? RestoreCSA has filing cabinets and banker’s boxes but we’ve never spent that much time searching through them. Take the banker’s boxes for example, they’re saying that it takes 17.5 hours to look through a single box. That’s more than two work days -full time- doing nothing but searching the contents of a single box.
The search figure for the filing cabinets is similar. The only way this makes sense, and that only marginally, is if the “filing” in question is more or less random, like confetti, the papers within each cabinet stuffed into random folders wholly unorganized. Otherwise, why would anyone read every page of every folder? Surely one would search only the relevant folders.
Of course, Industry Canada assures us that “most of the paper documents would be emails and therefore not relevant to this request.” Seriously? They’re printing out their emails?
We are further informed that it takes “30 seconds per page” to determine the relevance of the document. These are clearly their internal averages for estimating purposes, but as a baseline the numbers don’t make any sense and their use generates the kind of cost inflations which serve, perhaps conveniently, as impediments to the access nominally guaranteed at law.
For example, consider how long you have to stare at a letter to know if it’s from France Pegeot? You should try that. Take a letter from off your desk and actually stare at it for a full 30 seconds. You’ll be surprised how long that seems. Chances are pretty good that you knew your letter wasn’t from Ms Pegeot long before you got to the 30 second mark. Yet, this is the baseline for ATIP requests.
So, do you think Moore’s Ministry is being silly yet? Brace yourself, the silliness escalates.
Searching electronic records should be a doddle. RestoreCSA does this regularly. Actually, nearly everyone does. At Industry Canada however, things are more complicated.
For electronic documents, “we calculate 4 minutes per file with a breakdown as follows, 1 minute to open and print each record, 3 minutes to determine if it is a record that is one with a document that was officially signed off or not.” Remember the 30 seconds to read your letter? If that letter was electronic you’d need 3 minutes to look it over.
Specifically on the France Pegeot ATIP, the electronic search for her name takes 30 seconds per folder to search, each folder being searched separately, one by one. As Industry Canada put it; “(Folders 5 x 30 seconds) / 60 seconds = 2.5 minutes + (Pages 128,987 x 30) / 60 = 64493.5 minutes = 64496 / 60 minutes = 1,074.93 hours.”
In one Industry Canada section, searching the digital files for “PS Knight Co” would take 26,700 hours of staff time, based on 6 seconds per page, found on 12.70GB of data.
The Atlantic Regional desk of Industry Canada searched “214,978GB of electronic documents” for the term “PS Knight.” That search “took 7 employees a total of 16 hours to search through the hard drive.”
Apparently some of the most basic digital search functions are foreign to Industry Canada. For instance, it takes “30 seconds to use the search key function [for] emails and / or documents.” Really? And having performed this time-burning search, it then takes another “30 seconds to assess each electronic page […] for relevancy”.
The Atlantic Region advised that their search, though already performed, would require “$80 for programming” expenses in order to conduct it. Even though it had already happened. Without the programming.
The Pacific Region was slightly more entertaining. They reported that it would take no more than 5 hours to complete their electronic and hard copy search, calculated as “4.75 hours for electronic documents [plus] 4.75 hours for hard copy documents, [being] 502 relevant documents [on] 1914 pages.” To some of us that makes 9.5 hours, but lets not quibble. They also helpfully estimate that 75% of the relevant documents could be provided to the applicant. And they’re awfully good at estimating, rendering the 75% figure before even assessing the documents for relevancy.
They likely know they should be furnishing the documents as the law requires, and some of their email exchanges hint at that recognition. From an email on Dec. 24, 2014, “Hi, [it] looks like a NIL for everybody. They will need a reason why it is a NIL from you.” Another email on Dec. 29th, “Hi, This ATIP has been a NIL from DIF, DBR as well as DIT. Chris did not get back to me last week. They need a reason from you (DG) as to why it is a NIL for DGTP.” The response on the same date, “The reason it is a NIL for DGTP is that we have no relevant documentation.”
That’s impressive too, given that they had yet to search for anything.
Another response; “Please note below that IS/MLSB has no records that are relevant to the request. This is our official responses [sic]. MLSB is a NIL.” Then, helpfully they add, “Estimated percentage of documents to be fully released - 0%” Again, zero without searching.
This is the context in which RestoreCSA was advised by Industry Canada that they had already searched for documents of Ms Pegeot and found that she had generated precisely -and only- nine documents during her entire eleven-year tenure at Industry Canada.
We did however, receive one useful email record. Quoting from it, “Regarding informal callout A-2014-00463, the Office of the Corporate Secretary and Deputy Minister’s Office have one list to provide. Communication with the LEG, the SCC and SPS is recommended. Please note that the Canadian Standards Association and P.S. Knight Co. Ltd are engaged in an ongoing lawsuit […]” and the next line and a half are blacked out. Of course, those are the important lines, or so they seem. We’ll never know.
Thank you James Moore, Minister of Industry responsible for CSA. Your committment to transparency and accountability is transparent. We’ll push for accountability later this year.