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Manitoba Ombudsman releases FIPPA audit report of four Manitoba public bodies

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Jun 25, 2020

Manitoba Ombudsman has released an audit report under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) into the access to information practices of four public bodies – Manitoba Finance, Executive Council Office, the Civil Service Commission and Manitoba Crown Services.

“The right of timely access to information enables citizens to meaningfully participate in government decision making," said Ombudsman Jill Perron. "Under FIPPA, a delay in access is a refusal of access.”

FIPPA requires public bodies to respond to access requests in a timely manner and the act sets out a time limit of 30 days, which may be extended in certain circumstances. Additionally, under FIPPA public bodies have a duty to assist applicants throughout the FIPPA process. Public bodies must make every reasonable effort to clarify requests, search for records and respond without delay to each applicant in an open, accurate and complete manner.

This audit was initiated in response to a number of concerns brought forward to our office. FIPPA staff play an important role in processing and coordinating the responses to access requests. FIPPA services for the four public bodies are centralized with Manitoba Finance.

The audit of 120 FIPPA files over a six-month period ending in May 2018 examined:

  • The public bodies’ timeliness and compliance in meeting the legislated timelines under FIPPA when responding to requests.
  • Whether the public bodies communicated with applicants after receiving the requests, in keeping with the duty to assist applicants.

The audit identified the following issues:

  • Response times in many cases exceeded the legislated time limit and time extensions for responses were not used.
  • Communication with applicants throughout the access to information process was limited.
  • Documentation about the management of information, processing of access requests and decisions in the FIPPA files was inconsistent and not centralized. 

The ombudsman made five recommendations to improve the public bodies’ response times and aid in strengthening communication with applicants and compliance with FIPPA, including that the public bodies:

  • Not reveal the type of applicant if it is not necessary for processing the access request or may reveal the applicant’s identity.
  • Assess FIPPA processes and resource needs, in order to comply with legislated time limits.
  • Acknowledge the receipt of FIPPA applications and provide a FIPPA reference number and point of contact for applicants.
  • Standardize FIPPA process documentation and maintain it in a centralized location.
  • Routinely assess and consider releasing access records through proactive disclosure.

The public bodies accepted all five recommendations. Implementation of the recommendations will help to promote the right of access for Manitobans.

Manitoba Ombudsman is an independent office of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. Under FIPPA, the ombudsman may investigate complaints, conduct audits to monitor and ensure compliance with the act, inform the public about the act and comment on the access and privacy implications of proposed legislation, programs or practices of public bodies.

The FIPPA audit report, Timeliness of Access to Information Responses: Manitoba Finance, Executive Council, Civil Service Commission, Crown Services, is at