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Questions and Answers: Openness and Transparency at CFIA

How do the final framework and policy reflect the consultation feedback? What was changed and why?

The Open and Transparent Agency Framework and Policy were improved to reflect what we learned from stakeholders during internal and external consultation.

Key changes to the framework included:

  • changing the third theme from 'Report' to 'Respond', in line with the Agency's strategic direction and regulatory philosophy
  • reducing the framework's four themes to three: The 'Innovate' theme was removed and components of it related to science and innovation were re-aligned to the remaining themes: Empower, Equip and Respond. These themes in turn underwent minor adjustments to better reflect areas of interest identified during consultation
  • an emphasis on educating the public about CFIA's mandate, activities and program delivery was added

Key changes to the policy included:

  • significant changes to the policy objectives to bring needed clarity
  • additional language to increase integration and consistency with enabling activities across CFIA, including information and data management strategies
  • re-shaping the guiding principles to reflect stakeholder feedback, key considerations and values. These same guiding principles were also added to the framework for consistency

What are openness and transparency?

Openness is being receptive to free exchange of information, communications, change and new ideas as part of seeking excellence and continual improvement in design and delivery of programs and services.

Transparency is proactively providing relevant, accurate and timely information to the public to demonstrate accountability for delivery of programs and services, as part of supporting the right of Canadians to government records.

What does open by design mean?

Open by design refers to strategies that are used to ensure that openness and transparency considerations are deliberately and thoughtfully hard-wired into the design phase of all CFIA programs and services, and integrated when improvements are made to existing ones.

Why is CFIA trying to be more open and transparent?

Many factors are currently influencing CFIA to adopt a more open and transparent approach:

  • Canadians expect to be provided with relevant, accurate and timely information that will hold government institutions accountable for providing them with high-quality programs and services
  • Canadians expect government-created information they have helped fund to be made available proactively in order for them to make informed choices
  • Canada has been elected to a leadership role on the Open Government Partnership, a 70-country initiative that requires member states to take steps to promote transparency and empower citizens
  • Ministers' mandate letters for all departments and agencies ask Ministers to pursue greater openness and transparency
  • Increased media and social media scrutiny is challenging CFIA to report faster on its activities and decisions
  • The scientific community is pushing for open access to data and publications to enable innovation
  • The Directive on Open Government requires all Government of Canada departments and agencies to release as much data and information of business value as possible and to shift toward a culture of open by default

Wasn't CFIA already open and transparent?

The Agency has always been committed to openness and transparency and has made significant achievements as part of its Transparency Agenda. It began posting transparency-related information to its website in 2011, and has since undertaken several projects, including:

  • posting information about select compliance and enforcement activities to verify that domestically produced and imported products meet Canadian requirements
  • posting notifications when charges are laid and prosecution bulletins when it obtains a conviction on contraventions of the laws and regulations it enforces
  • the My CFIA portal, which provides industry with convenient, secure access to online services
  • Ask CFIA, a service which provides certain food industry sectors with one point of entry for asking questions on how to comply with current regulatory requirements
  • the Complaints and Appeals Office, an independent recourse mechanism which allows stakeholders to register compliments, complaints, and appeals related to CFIA services, administrative errors, and regulatory decisions
  • social media videos posted to Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube to highlight its regulatory role and scientific expertise

While these are all significant achievements that have helped to increase openness and transparency, there is more that the Agency can do to meet evolving and public expectations that it will further enhance openness and transparency in step with actions taken by domestic and international counterparts.

Does this mean everything will be made public?

No. Information must be shared responsibly. Although more information will start to become public, the Agency's obligation to protect legitimate personal and confidential business information will always be taken into account before anything is shared. All disclosed documents will need to respect requirements governing public release of information, including the Privacy Act, Access to Information Act, and the Official Languages Act.

CFIA says it is committed to protecting personal information. What is personal information?

Personal information means information about an identifiable individual that is recorded in any form. Examples of personal information that is protected under the Privacy Act include:

  • name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, websites (if it reveals personal information on an identifiable individual)
  • race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, marital status
  • education, medical, criminal or employment history
  • any identifying number or symbol assigned to the individual
  • their personal opinions or views
  • any of their financial information

CFIA says it will protect confidential business information. What is confidential business information?

Under Canadian laws, confidential business information includes financial, commercial, scientific and technical information supplied to a government institution by an outside party that is not publicly available, treated consistently in a confidential manner by the outside party, and has economic value that would result in financial loss to the provider or gain to a competitor if disclosed.

Examples of confidential business information in the food industry, for example, typically include:

  • product formulations or recipes
  • scientific or technical information such as unique manufacturing processes, research and development information
  • commercial information such as sales, volume of production; product distribution, buyers and supplier information
  • financial information

Are openness and transparency unique to CFIA?

No. Other departments and countries have been increasing openness and transparency. Keeping pace with its counterparts is necessary if CFIA wants to maintain the trust of Canadians and its other stakeholders. Further increasing openness and transparency will allow CFIA to align with what is being done by other organizations in Canada and around the world. For example, Health Canada, the Food and Drug Administration (United States), the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (United States), the European Food Safety Authority (European Union) and the Food Standards Agency (United Kingdom) have all adopted various openness and transparency measures.

What are the expected benefits of being more open and transparent?

Increasing openness and transparency will enhance general public and foreign market trust in Canada's regulatory system. In addition:

  • Providing more information on our regulatory activities will help Canadians and trading partners better understand the efforts industry puts in place to keep them safe
  • Canadians will better understand how and why regulatory decisions are made and will be able to use this information to make well-informed choices for themselves, their families and their businesses
  • Industry will have new data to better inform its business decisions and help them comply with regulatory requirements
  • Increased transparency will also promote fairness and consistency in regulatory decisions affecting industry
  • Academics and scientists will be able to pursue data collaboration and pool scientific resources and information to advance research
  • Industry associations will have more documents and information to enable research benefiting Canadians

How do openness and transparency support CFIA's strategic priorities?

The three themes of CFIA's Open and Transparent Agency Framework – Empower, Equip and Respond– mutually reinforce the Agency's five strategic priorities articulated in Responding to Today and Building for the Future (RTBF). In addition to continual engagement with stakeholders and innovation, transparency will help CFIA attain its strategic priorities. For example, CFIA will be able to:

  • empower Canadians with information about how the Agency protects them from risks to their health and safety, make informed decisions, and have a voice in how CFIA policies, programs and services are designed and delivered. Stakeholders will be able to see the ways that CFIA supports innovative science and gains international recognition as a global leader in the protection of food, plant, and animal resources
  • equip industry with more plain-language information that explains why regulatory provisions exist, additional tools to help them comply with new outcome-based regulations as part of the Agency's modern regulatory toolkit, and an expanded suite of digital-first tools and services
  • respond to the right of Canadians to know how and why CFIA takes action to address non-compliance, and how the Agency practices integrated risk management to conduct oversight and deliver consistent and effective inspections

What is open government?

Open government is about making government more accessible to everyone. This means giving greater access to government data and information to the Canadian public and the businesses community with a focus on transparency, accountability, and citizen participation.

What is open science?

As part of open government, open science maximizes access to federally funded scientific research to encourage greater collaboration and engagement with the scientific community, the private sector, and the public.

What is open data and open information?

Open data is machine readable data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share alike.

Open information is unstructured information that is freely shared without restrictions.

What's the plan moving forward?

Increasing transparency at CFIA will be done using a phased, multi-year approach. In the case of the framework, an action plan will be developed to bring each of the three themes – Empower, Equip and Respond – to life. This action plan will consider:

  • bridging known gaps between the openness and transparency practices of CFIA and its domestic and international regulatory counterparts
  • comments and input received through this consultation, and consultation held with CFIA staff in early 2018
  • the need for CFIA to balance the diverse needs of all stakeholders and to maintain its regulatory independence
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