Are you waiting patiently, or impatiently, for a substantive response from LAC to a request for information? Frequently I hear researchers expressing frustration over long delays, the situation was mentioned in a webinar I attended on Tuesday evening.
Library and Archives Canada Annual Report on the Access to Information Act: 2020–2021, published in January, details the situation for that period in context.
Requests received grew for four years from 2015-2016 until declining in the 2020-2021 (pandemic) year, notably at the start of the year. Overall, the number completed did not keep pace so the backlog grew from 2,885 to 16,922 — 586 percent.
During 2020-2021 urgent requests related to medical benefits, social services, class actions, legal proceedings, and other urgent circumstances were prioritized. That would not include applications for genealogical and historical research, thus the delay.
Forty-two percent of requests in 2020-2021 (3,529) were identified as being from the public, as distinct from media, organizations, businesses (private sector) and academics. An additional 30% were not identified so it seems likely over half the requests were from individuals pursuing their family history. Six in every seven of the public requests were informal, and 90% of informal requests were for Canadian Armed Forces and Canadian Public Service Records. The bulk of our community applications will be a low priority.
In January 2021 the Information Commissioner initiated a complaint against LAC regarding its ongoing failure to provide timely access to information. An official report on the investigation is expected to be completed in the 2021-2022 fiscal year (by the end of March.)
Media Relations for the Information Commissioner informs that the report will now be coming out in April 2022.
WHAT TO DO
If you have a request pending, re-submit as a “formal” request and pay the $5 application fee. This will prioritize your request since LAC has a legal obligation to provide an answer and the documents within 30 days. If applying for a Second World War service record, familiarize yourself with the access conditions for making a “formal” request for the file.
If you are dissatisfied with services at LAC in meeting legislated timelines, write to your MP.
Your local or provincial family history/genealogical society likely has an advocacy mandate. If so, encourage your society to lobby for service improvements. Better still, like-minded societies whose members have encountered long delays in accessing archival records might partner to bring their collective concerns to senior management at LAC and the political level.
The report Library and Archives Canada Annual Report on the Access to Information Act: 2020–2021 is full of detail, a model of openness. It should be linked with similar LAC reports.
I’m told by Media Relations from the Information Commissioner that the report will now be coming out in April 2022.
7 Replies to “Library and Archives Canada Access to Information Act Report”
I’m not waiting for a reply from Bac-Lac but the temporarily shut their doors when the protesters showed up in Ottawa. Have they opened their doors yet.
Thank you for the comprehensive overview of a challenging situation. In my case, however, it is not a matter of waiting for information to be sent or provided; instead, I am facing a situation where a project undertaken by LAC was started, half-finished and then seemingly abandoned. I refer to the fact that access to Personnel Service Files for World War I soldiers was about to be improved online with the addition of fields covering place of birth and place of attestation. An advanced search would then allow you to find all the soldiers from your own community. This project was begun at the “back end” of the line, so-to-speak, as only those soldiers with surnames beginning M to Z had communities added to their access routes. Even then, I discovered that although many soldiers in this M to Z group could be found through a search by community name, many others in the group could not. Thus, when looking for a soldier from “Cantfindyou” Ontario there would be no chance of finding him by his community, and when looking for a soldier from “Popoloo, Ontario in the second half of the alphabet, only a 50/50 chance existed of finding him. If you were not aware that the job was less than half done, you might mistakenly decide that no soldier had ever come from either of these communities when in fact hundreds might have done so. Frustrating beyond belief!!!
You can search by place of birth already in Ancestry.
An excellent summary of the issues regarding the delays at LAC. There are a couple of points worth making in regard to that backlog. Firstly, as you have shown, the delays at LAC began long before Covid and they did not react to them then which has led to the problem compounding into a vicious circle. While I agree that paying the $5.00 for a formal request is a way around being put at the end of the queue, it does not address the underlying issue. LAC must be more proactive in their approach or they will never clear the backlog. I certainly agree with giving priority to the areas that you have outlined, but it should not be at the expense of everyone else. Library and Archives Canada by definition is supposed to be a library. And we are supposed to be able to access information from a library otherwise it is just a warehouse full of paper. If the issue is lack of funding, then, as you point out, genealogical clubs should be putting pressure on the government to provide money for more staff at LAC until the backlog is gone and also so that LAC can pay to have their WW 2 records digitized and accessible to all. Once those and other files are digitized the backlog would decrease simply because researchers would be able to access records directly without taking up valuable LAC staff time in searching.
The other comment I have heard regarding LACs approach to information is in regard to the issue of the Privacy Act and keeping information about individuals who are still alive secret, I find it interesting that Australia is proceeding with digitizing and releasing WW 2 records while still constrained by its own Privacy Act while we are not. Whether it is because they have a different approach to what constitutes private information, a different time frame for release or a different wording in their Act, it doesn’t seem to be an issue in making the information accessible to the public.
However, even with LAC’s very restrictive approach, it seems to me that it would be a simple matter to either contract out or crowd source the digitization of all the WW2 personnel records and War Diaries, beginning with the War Diaries since they are a record of military operations rather than individual activities, albeit with some names of people who were involved in that group’s activities (sadly usually killed in action). Then, since databases are easily made searchable (the very reason for a database), the database could be created so that any name in the record could be tagged and, if that person was still alive, blocked from public view (much the way Ancestry blocks living people in its family trees). Then as these living soldiers pass away, the block could be removed.
In this way we could all access our parents’ and grandparents’ military careers while we are still alive to record it instead of hoping that the next generation has the same interest that we have.
I am just a simple digital farmer. I dutifully pay my $5 fee for my formal request. I then wait 5 years on average for LAC to get around to releasing files, harvest time. I have over 1,500 outstanding formal requests with LAC since 2016. I am not too worried because I will eventually get them. After a certain time they become deemed refusals for the purposes of Treasury Board Secretariat and must be reported as such to Parliament. My only question is that if most federal government ATIP sections returned to full operations by September 2020 or soon after, why is LAC still in restricted operations mode and triaging new requests?
It’s also worth noting, with the decrease in requests, that some people like me, knowing the delays, don’t even bother trying to order from LAC. If I have a project that I’m working on with a deadline of a month or two, there is not point in even considering ordering something from LAC. Instead, I put in the report that the client should consider ordering it themselves. There is no point in me ordering something for them that might arrive a year or two after our contract is completed. I wrote to my MP several months ago re: LAC funding- he actually phoned me this week regarding my concerns. Please write to your MPs!