December 2023 update

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is continuing to implement its 2022–2028 ATIP Action Plan. LAC’s new Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Branch is now operational within the institution, with all the associated resources and responsibilities. It has over 180 employees, 35% of whom are analysts directly responsible for responding to the many ATIP requests received and reducing the backlog of requests. LAC has also staffed positions across the institution to ensure the continuum of functions to respond to ATIP requests, including additional staff to move material between facilities, as well as additional digitization specialists.

Over the coming months, LAC will be focusing on several challenges as it continues its efforts to recruit and retain staff in the highly competitive ATIP environment within the Government of Canada. Following an extensive review of the training plan for new employees to adapt it to the specific realities of ATIP at LAC, the new Training Team is building a development program for ATIP analysts to ensure succession and continuity of operations. The organization is also working to speed up implementation of specialized technology software and network access to facilitate the work of its teams.

Part 1: Getting back on track

Decrease backlog

The efforts of LAC’s ATIP Branch have greatly contributed to reducing the backlog of requests. The goal was to reduce the backlog by 40% by March 31, 2024, based on data presented in the Office of the Information Commissioner’s 2022 report. The team has surpassed this target, having already reduced the backlog by 52%. The following table shows the progress of backlog processing according to the nature of requests received.

Type of records Outstanding as of August 31, 2021 Completed as of November 30, 2023 Pages released
Records of former Canadian Armed Forces members and of former federal public servants 11,791 6,520 157,862
GC archival records 2,569 900 619,261
LAC operational records 27 27 12,744

In addition to the 14,387 ATI backlogged requests, 1,961 privacy requests were also outstanding as of August 31, 2021. As of November 30, 2023, of those 16,348 ATIP backlogged requests, 9,381 requests have been processed, with 1,276,551 pages released, amounting to 57% of those backlogged requests now completed.

With regards to its current overall backlog of overdue requests, as of November 30, 2023, LAC had 10,554 overdue requests remaining in its queue and remains on track to meet the overall 40% elimination target for this fiscal year.

Major investments in equipment and human resources have more than doubled the capacity of our Digitization Team in a year, meaning it is now able to digitize close to 215,000 pages of records each month. The review of our workflows and policies also positively impacted the processing of the 13,000 new annual requests received since we began implementing our action plan. While continuing to significantly reduce the backlog, the ATIP Team is now able to respond to 73% of new requests within legislated timeframes. As the backlog of requests continues to decrease, employees will be reassigned to inbound processing and proactive approaches to better meet the demand.

Reduce queue of OIC complaints

Since the last update published in June 2023, LAC has made several changes to its approach that have positively impacted the processing of new requests and complaints. The ATIP Branch’s Complaints Management Team has implemented innovative procedures to address the backlog of complaints received while responding to orders from the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC). Our team works continuously with OIC investigators to develop effective mechanisms for responding to orders and to anticipate which requests will be prioritized. Thanks to our sustained efforts, the backlog of complaints has been reduced by 28%. Over 172,500 pages have been reviewed as part of the various complaints, and we estimate that the remainder of complaint files in processing amounts to over 4 million pages of records. Always in search of innovative processes, the Complaints Management Team and Block Review Team will work together to evaluate requests for which complaints have been filed, and seek opportunities to expedite the review process, where appropriate.

Part 2: Internal review and improvements

Renew our policies and processes

The renewal of our policies and procedures has affected all our teams and enabled us to meet legislated timeframes for 73% of new requests received. Wait times for requests to access archival records dealing with military and intelligence subject matter have been reduced by 80%. These major improvements are the result of several flagship initiatives:

  • The creation of an internal Archival Research Team tasked with finding any publicly available information identified in an access request. This eliminates the need to consult other government departments and enables LAC to actively exercise its discretion under the Access to Information Act. Thanks to the work of this team, the time required to process a request for access to military and intelligence records has dropped from about 200 days to fewer than 50.
  • The re-establishment of a Block Review Team in July 2023, which has since proactively opened and provided access to over a million pages of records which now no longer require an ATIP request.
  • The creation of a LAC Declassification Team to proactively review certain archival records and holdings, with a view to suggesting and justifying their declassification to the federal departments and organizations that created them. Since this team was established, more than 1,000 pages have been declassified.
  • Reorganization of teams in Gatineau and Winnipeg that process requests for the files of retired Canadian Armed Forces members to improve workflows, dedicate time to specific tasks such as implementation of pardons, and limit movements of material to more efficiently respond to clients.

Invest in IT

LAC has continued to invest in new information technologies, in particular to support the response to the many ATIP requests we receive. We are currently in the process of replacing our main request processing software to ensure we have the most efficient and up-to-date tools in place for our team. We have also added several secure workstations to increase our capacity to process requests for access to records classified as secret or top secret, and to limit the need to move them across our different facilities. Increased digitization capacity at our Winnipeg facility has also eliminated the need to move records to the National Capital Region. Soon, the public will be able to access previously released ATI requests via LAC’s website rather than having to submit a dedicated request to the ATIP Team. These measures will help make LAC’s archival records available to a wider public in a more immediate way.

Ensure business stability and continuity

To provide stability and continuity of LAC’s ATIP operations, we are updating our Business Continuity Plan based on our experience throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the April 2023 strike by certain federal public service employee groups.

Part 3: Engage with external partners on broader issues affecting ATIP

Engage with Government of Canada partners

LAC’s ATIP Team actively participates in several Government of Canada-wide committees to advance the cause and make improvements to the access to information and privacy system. These various committees comprise representatives of many departments and deal with a variety of subjects such as declassification, access to information, modernization of the Privacy Act, litigation and class actions involving the federal government, and much more. LAC’s ATIP Team is also actively involved in implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act Action Plan to support Indigenous data sovereignty. Access to information and privacy in an archival context, as well as LAC’s key role and expertise, are increasingly understood and valued by the Government of Canada’s ATIP community.

Engage with international organizations

The ATIP Team participated in discussions and research on sunset clauses with our counterparts in New Zealand, and with those in British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador. We also researched common practices within the Five Eyes community. Our Declassification Team actively works with various departments that transfer archival material to LAC, as well as with NATO, to ensure cohesion in the declassification of intelligence-related documents.

Engage with clients and the public

To ensure close collaboration with our clients and the public, several tools have been developed with our communications colleagues. A social media campaign, blog posts and website articles have been developed to communicate the reality of ATIP work at LAC. We have also improved LAC’s ATIP Online forms to better reflect the needs of LAC clients. We are working with various community groups such as Royal Canadian Legion branches, military museums and genealogy centres to equip them to respond appropriately to visitors, who sometimes come to us to access their personal military service information. We are also working to publish an explanatory guide on military records. Members of our team also gave three presentations at the recent Canadian Foreign Intelligence History Project symposium to exchange views with many researchers who regularly access the military records in LAC’s custody. LAC’s ATIP Team is also actively involved with Canada’s Indigenous communities. We participated in the National Claims Research Workshop, the Indigenous History and Heritage Gathering, and are in regular contact with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Lastly, we often meet with high-volume clients to better understand their needs and appropriately prioritize their cases in our queue of work, including those that are in complaint status or under orders from the Information Commissioner.