Manitoba Ombudsman releases 2001 Annual ReportReturn to listing
Apr 3, 2003
The Manitoba Ombudsman released his 2001 Annual Report under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and The Personal Health Information Act (PHIA). He noted that the office was handling a steadily growing workload with resultant backlogs. In 2001, 260 cases were opened under the statutes, a 16% increase over the previous year. Complaints have increased 270% since 1997.
Broad privacy issues have become more clearly defined
since the tragic events of
September 11, 2001, according to the Ombudsman. He noted that many federal and provincial privacy commissioners have expressed serious reservations about the introduction of privacy-intrusive measures that may be unnecessary, unrelated to or ineffective in combating terrorism, protecting public safety, or ensuring security. He called for broader public discussion and education about privacy matters and greater organizational transparency in the collection, use, and disclosure of identifiable personal and personal health information.
The numbers of formal requests for access to information have continued to rise under the legislation. In 2001, local public bodies received 542 requests for access to records, 86% more than the previous year. The City of Winnipeg accounted for 153. By the end of 2001, there were a total of 398 local public bodies under the legislation of which slightly more than half were municipal government.
Provincial government departments and agencies received 667 requests for access to records in 2001, 21% more than the previous year. 2001 marked the third year of a significant increase in formal applications for information to the provincial government following three years of decline from 1996 to 1998.
The Ombudsman said there were some noteworthy
overall signs of improvement regarding the handling of formal
information requests by government bodies in 2001. In 2000, he had
identified troubling issues where responses to access requests were
delayed by numerous time extensions taken by public bodies, where
processes were changed for
coordinating access requests, and where inadequate government responses to requests for information generated an unprecedented volume of complaints to the office.
Positive trends in 2001 included:
- Local public bodies (educational, health care, and government) provided full or partial access to records for 80% of the requests processed in 2001.
- For the second year in a row, provincial departments and agencies provided full or partial access to records in about 67% of the requests processed in 2001, compared to an all time low of 55% in 1999. Eighty-nine percent of requests were met within 30 days, nine percent in 60 days or less, and one percent did not meet these standards.
- The Ombudsman supported 53% of the access decisions of provincial government public bodies in 2001, compared to 34% in 1999 and 37% in 2000. This is seen as a positive trend since it is anticipated that the commitment, knowledge, and experience of public bodies would normally lead them to decisions reflecting the spirit, letter, and intent of the legislation more often than not.
The Ombudsman commented that limited resources continue to present a major challenge to his office in balancing increasingly complex complaint workloads and other priorities.
In 2001, the Ombudsman’s Office closed 194 cases, more than triple the number completed in 1997, but 185 cases were still carried into 2002. In an effort to reduce backlogs without compromising the integrity of investigations, the Ombudsman’s Office
- has prepared a Checklist for public bodies as a reminder of the elements to be included when responding to requests for information. Incomplete responses add unnecessary time and effort to complaint investigations for both the Ombudsman’s Office and the public bodies implicated;
- is developing a self-assessment tool to assist public bodies and personal health information trustees determine their state of compliance with the legislation in order to help minimize breaches and subsequent complaints to The Ombudsman’s office.
“We will continue to work toward improving the service we provide to the members of the Legislative Assembly, to the public, and to the government,” said the Manitoba Ombudsman. “Nevertheless, I believe a visible and practical commitment by the government and the Legislative Assembly to the purposes and values of access and privacy legislation and the oversight role, is needed.”
The Ombudsman made recommendations concerning four files that were opened in 2000. Three files were under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and one was under The Personal Health Information Act (PHIA). Summaries of these recommendations are attached as a backgounder.
With the publication of the 2001 Annual Report under FIPPA and PHIA, summaries of selected access and privacy cases will soon be available on line at (http://www.ombudsman.mb.ca/), rather than being presented routinely in the annual printed reports. New postings of case summaries on the web site will be considered on a regular basis, allowing for a more timely and cost effective method of information dissemination. For those without access to the Internet, hard copies can be obtained in person or by fax or mail.
Created in 1970, the Office of the Manitoba Ombudsman exists to promote fairness, equity and administrative accountability through independent and impartial investigation of complaints and legislative compliance reviews.