ARCHIVED - Complaints and Appeals Office - Annual Report 2012–2013

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The Complaints and Appeals Office

If you would like to receive a PDF version of this report, please contact the Complaints and Appeals Office at CAO_BPA@inspection.gc.ca.

The Complaints and Appeals Office (CAO) of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) opened in April 2012.

Designed to provide regulated parties, consumers and other stakeholders with a transparent and accessible way to register complaints, the CAO welcomes compliments and comments, and reviews complaints and appeals. Comments, compliments and complaints can be registered on matters related to the quality of the CFIA's service delivery or decisions made by CFIA staff, which are typically regulatory in nature. Those with complaints against the CFIA are encouraged to resolve them through an incremental, three-step process:

  1. Speak with the CFIA employee involved in the complaint.
  2. If this does not resolve the matter, speak with the employee's supervisor, manager or director.
  3. If this does not resolve the matter, submit a formal complaint with the CAO by completing a Complaints, Comments and Compliments form.

For more information, visit www.inspection.gc.ca, email us at CAO_BPA@inspection.gc.ca or contact us by phone.

Toll-free: 1-800-442-2342
Local: 613-773-2342
TTY: 1-800-465-7735

Letters and Introduction

Letter from the President

During its inaugural year, the Complaints and Appeals Office (CAO) became a functional team operating at arm's length from the CFIA branches, building the resources, policies and processes needed to strengthen CFIA's relationships with producers and stakeholders, and make the Agency more accountable to Canadians.

To achieve its mandate—safeguarding Canada's food supply and protecting animal health and plant health—the CFIA regularly interacts with, and provides services to many different groups. The establishment of the CAO represents an important step in the CFIA's ongoing transformation to a more service-oriented, responsive and accountable organization. Another important step was the 2012 publication of the Statement of Rights and Service for Producers, Consumers and Other Stakeholders, along with a guide for each of the specific groups we serve. The next step, as part of the Safe Food for Canadians Act, is the development of regulations which will give regulatory authority to the redress function.

A focus on service drives consistency across our entire organization, as it enhances engagement with stakeholders, and enables us to recognize service excellence and learn where we must improve. The Agency values the feedback that the CAO provides, as it gives us an opportunity to measure and report on our performance both to stakeholders and to staff.

The CFIA remains committed to working closely with stakeholders, producers and Canadians to resolve issues that might affect the food supply, plant and animal resource base, industry and individual businesses. If you have any questions regarding the Complaints and Appeals Office, Statement of Rights and Service or guides to inspection, please refer to the contact information listed on the inside cover of this report and on our website.

As the CAO builds on the foundation established during its first year, I look forward to the contribution it will make to Canada's food value chain and to Canadians.

Finally, I must pay tribute to the vision and dedication of my predecessor, Mr. George Da Pont, in the creation of the CAO and the redress function at CFIA.

B.A. (Bruce) Archibald, PhD
President

Letter from the Chief Redress Officer

It is a pleasure to present the inaugural annual report of the Complaints and Appeals Office (CAO). The establishment of the CAO provides consumers, producers, processors, animal transporters, importers and exporters with a more accessible and transparent way to register complaints, appeals, comments and compliments. The CAO is designed to efficiently review complaints, appeals, comments and compliments related to service delivery, administrative errors and regulatory decisions.

The CAO's single-window approach complements processes already in place by ensuring that issues related to regulatory decisions and service delivery can be more thoroughly addressed. Over time, the CAO will support continuous improvement in CFIA services and processes.

Not surprisingly, the CAO's first year focused on hiring and training staff, and establishing and implementing policies and practices related to the intake, analysis and reporting of complaints, comments and compliments. As soon as the CAO was up and running, it began to move into another phase of operation: reaching out to CFIA's stakeholders and clients to describe our role and operating model. These outreach efforts continue.

The next phase, beginning in 2013–2014, involves the development and implementation of regulations that will provide regulatory authority for the redress function provided by the Safe Foods for Canadians Act. Eventually, the CAO will serve a more proactive role, identifying trends and generating the kind of feedback that supports continuous improvement.

The success of the CAO's first year is a testament to the professionalism and dedication of its staff. I thank each and every member of the CAO team for their ongoing efforts to serve Canadians. I also acknowledge the contribution of the inaugural Chief Redress Officer, Catherine Airth, for her leadership in establishing and enabling the CAO.

Susan J. Shaw
Chief Redress Officer

CAO's Guiding Principles

Visibility: Increase awareness of internal and external processes
Accessibility: A single-window service that is easy to access and understand
Responsiveness: The CAO honours service standards and treats all complaints seriously

Administration

Complaint Procedure

Intake

  1. Open file, acknowledge receipt of complaint by phone or email.
  2. Assess whether complaint falls within CAO mandate.
  3. If the complaint is outside CAO mandate, notify and refer complainant to appropriate CFIA branch and close file; if it is within CAO mandate, begin review.

Review

  1. Telephone call with complainant to gather additional information, such as names of CFIA staff involved.
  2. Interview CFIA specialists for their perspectives on the complaint.
  3. Review relevant technical documents.
  4. Possibly meet with CFIA staff to explore options for addressing complaint.
  5. CAO complaints analyst determines outcome, notifies complainant by telephone and in writing.
  6. File is closed.

Administration

The CAO handles two types of complaints: regulatory and service.

Regulatory

A regulated party or member of the public:

  • Disagrees with a CFIA regulatory decision.
  • Is dissatisfied with the overall impact of a CFIA program, policy or regulation.

Service

A regulated party or member of the public alleges:

  • Unnecessary delays in providing service;
  • Poor behaviour or attitude of staff;
  • That a CFIA employee has made an administrative error, or misapplied or misinterpreted a policy or procedure;
  • That a CFIA process, program or employee is not sufficiently focused on providing timely and efficient service.

Classification of Outcomes

Regulatory Complaints

Upheld

Based on information gathered during the CAO review, the CAO upholds the CFIA's original decision or ruling.

Reconsidered or Amended

Based on information gathered during the CAO review, the CFIA chooses to reconsider its original decision or ruling.

Service Complaints

Unfounded

Based on information gathered during its review, the CAO determines that the complaint does not accurately reflect how the CFIA delivered the service. In some cases, however, the CFIA may still take action to address misperceptions.

Founded

Based on information gathered during its review, the CAO determines that the complaint is justified. The CFIA accepts responsibility and takes action to resolve the complaint and/or prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.

Inconclusive

The CAO's review has failed to determine whether a complaint is justified.

No review/withdrawn

This outcome applies to any regulatory or service complaint that the CAO determines to be outside its mandate, or that is later withdrawn by the complainant.

Note: These terms are based on CFIA administrative redress policy, and are not legal definitions.

Compliments and Comments

The CAO acknowledges, records and tracks all compliments and comments it receives. In addition, the CAO notifies the CFIA about compliments and comments, and identifies any potential opportunities for improvement in CFIA services or practices.

Service Standard

The CAO acknowledges receipt of all complaints, comments and compliments within two business days.

Other service standards relating to the maximum time needed to review the various types of complaints are under development.

"We welcome news of a complaints and appeals mechanism so that farmers and small-business owners can register complaints and appeals on regulatory decisions and service quality."

Marilyn Braun-Pollon, Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses Vice-president Prairie and Agri-business

"This new mechanism will be well received by industry and particularly producers."

Martin Unrau Vice-President Canadian Cattleman's Association

"…I was transporting two large and beloved houseplants that have been in my family for many years and passed down through generations. I knew that we would not be allowed across the border without some prior preparation. After doing some quick research, I was informed that I would need a phytosanitary certificate, issued by a CFIA inspector. As it was late Friday afternoon, I was not optimistic. The CFIA inspector responded to my voicemail within minutes, kindly explaining to me the process involved and within no time the plants had been inspected and the certificate was in hand. She was professional and eager to help…"

Excerpt of a compliment from Mariah Russell, praising the work of the CFIA inspector

Accomplishments

During the CAO's first year of operation, a key focus was establishing the infrastructure that supports long-term success. Along with hiring and training staff, designing a database and developing communications materials, the CAO also designed and implemented processes and practices to receive, triage, review and report complaints, compliments, comments and appeals. This critical infrastructure enables the CAO to execute its mandate of improving the CFIA's relationships with, and the quality of services it delivers to, stakeholders and Canadians.

In its first year, the CAO opened a total of 318 files. After triaging the complaints, the CAO found that more than half (167) fell outside the CAO's mandate: many were food labeling complaints (e.g. hazards found in food products) and others related to potential foodborne illness, all of which were immediately sent to the appropriate CFIA branch for action. The CAO tracks all complaints, even those it refers to other branches. As stakeholders familiarize themselves with the CAO, the percentage of complaints that fall outside its mandate is expected to decrease.

The 151 files within its mandate opened during 2012–2013 included:

  • 82 complaints (41 service, 41 regulatory)
  • 59 compliments
  • 10 comments

Of the 41 complaints related to CFIA services:

  • 11 alleged unnecessary delays
  • 9 alleged poor behaviour or attitude of CFIA staff
  • 6 alleged errors had been made by a CFIA employee
  • 15 alleged a lack of service orientation

Of these 41 service complaints, the CAO determined that:

  • 17 were founded
  • 8 were unfounded
  • 8 were inconclusive
  • 8 were not reviewed or incompleteFootnote 1

Of the 41 regulatory complaints:

  • 34 challenged a CFIA decision
  • 7 challenged a CFIA policy

Following the CAO review process of these 41 regulatory complaints:

  • 19 were upheld
  • 4 were reconsidered or amended
  • 18 were not reviewed or incompleteFootnote 1

Case Studies

The following case studies provide examples of the type of complaints reviewed by the CAO and the outcomes of each review.

Case Study #1 - Importing Containers of Imported Products into Canada

Regulatory complaint: challenge of a CFIA decision

The CAO received a complaint concerning the CFIA's decision to detain a container of imported product due to missing official information. The complainant alleged that the container should be admitted into Canada because the product was not affected.

The CAO spoke with the complainant, reviewed documentation submitted by the complainant and consulted with CFIA officials. Based on CAO findings, CFIA officials reached a consensual decision to release the container. A representative of the company that had made the complaint welcomed the outcome of the review and thanked the CAO for its involvement.

To help prevent this type of concern in future, the CAO will share an opportunity for improvement that the CFIA review and clarify the requirements related to this procedure for offshore containers imported into Canada. The CAO will also share an opportunity for improvement that the CFIA ensure that inspection staff is aware of any changes to the procedures related to this requirement on imported containers.Footnote 2

Case Study #2 - Obtaining an International Health Certificate

Service complaint: lack of service orientation

The CAO received a complaint regarding delays in obtaining the CFIA's endorsement of an international health certificate. In an effort to obtain the endorsement, the complainant had worked with an accredited veterinarian to complete several forms and had presented the forms to a CFIA office, but was told that the paperwork was incomplete. The complainant alleged that the process followed on this occasion failed to demonstrate a commitment to service and that the CFIA official appeared unsure about what information was required. Eventually, the CFIA endorsed the certificate.

The CAO reviewed documentation submitted by the complainant, and consulted CFIA officials about the incident. The CAO concluded that the paperwork originally completed did not meet the foreign country's requirements and that the CFIA veterinarian had followed the appropriate approach in endorsing the international health certificate and accompanying documentation.

This review identified a longstanding problem: that the forms needed to acquire international health certificates were often completed improperly and could not be endorsed by CFIA officials.

To help prevent this type of concern in the future, the CAO will share an opportunity for improvement that the CFIA republish its Notice (originally published in 2009) regarding the type of information that veterinarians must include in international health certificates. The CAO will also share an opportunity for improvement that the CFIA make this information more readily available, such as by posting it to the relevant section of the CFIA website.Footnote 2

Case Study #3 - Reviewing a HACCP plan

Regulatory complaint: challenge of a CFIA decision

The CAO received a complaint about a corrective action request (CAR) issued by the CFIA. The CAR called for the company to include an additional step in its HACCP (hazards analysis and critical control point) plan. Under HACCP, companies must identify potential hazards, such as possible sources of contamination in a product, and take appropriate measures to identify and control them. The use of this additional step which was being requested is considered an effective control measure for this purpose.

The company indicated that there was no need to identify this step as a control point because its employees can, on their own, adequately identify and control the potential hazards. It asked that the CAR be changed or withdrawn and offered to further strengthen the measures currently in place. Under HACCP, this approach is acceptable if the alternate control measures are adequate.

The CAO conducted a thorough review of the complaint and recommended that CFIA uphold its original decision to require that the additional step be identified as a critical control point.

To help prevent this type of concern in future, the CAO will share an opportunity for improvement that the CFIA publish the existing draft discussion paper outlining the CFIA's position on the requirement for this additional step in a HACCP plan.Footnote 2

Outreach Activities

To raise awareness of the CAO's mandate and processes, both with stakeholders and with CFIA employees, the CAO carried out extensive outreach activities. These included delivering live presentations, publishing information kits and other promotional materials and distributing them to targeted groups, and posting information to CFIA internet and intranet sites. Presentations were made to dozens of groups within the CFIA and several to industry stakeholder groups, such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Beef and Cattle Producers Advisory Committee.

Conclusion

Transparency, Service, Accountability

The CAO provides a transparent, readily accessible and clearly defined mechanism for regulated parties and stakeholders to file complaints and comments about CFIA decisions, processes and services. Identifying specific opportunities for improvement will increase the quality of the CFIA services.

The CAO's review of a complaint or comment might, for instance, identify a program deficiency such as a manual of procedures that is out of date or needlessly difficult to understand. A CAO review might also bring attention to an outdated regulation, or suggest a procedural improvement, such as appropriately verifying an official certificate attached to a container of an imported food product. Reviews could also identify opportunities to develop and deliver new services, such as issuing permits after regular business hours in emergency situations.

In the short term, the CAO will strengthen the CFIA's accountability and relations with its stakeholders; it is also expected to generate efficiencies that will benefit industry as well as all Canadians. Regular reviews of complaints and comments, along with reporting on outcomes, will also help to identify trends and enable the CFIA to proactively develop solutions to emerging issues.

Twice a year, the CAO will share opportunities for improvement with appropriate CFIA vice-presidents and executive directors. This feedback mechanism will enable CFIA branches to identify and implement specific actions that support continuous improvement in service. In this way, the CAO will also generate valuable data that can inform the CFIA's training of frontline staff.

The CAO's Next Phase

The CAO will play an increasingly valuable role in improving the quality of the services CFIA provides and strengthening Canada's food value chain. A key part of this evolution will occur with the development of regulations flowing from the Safe Food for Canadians Act. These regulations will support the regulatory authority of the redress function. Consultations with stakeholders held during 2013–2014 will inform these redress regulations.

Ultimately, producers, processors, others along the value chain and consumers are, and will remain, responsible for their role in food safety. The CFIA plays an important regulatory role. As the CAO gathers and analyzes data about the relationships and interactions between the CFIA and its stakeholders, it will strengthen these relationships and foster greater consistency and clarity in CFIA decisions and policies. This benefits all Canadians.

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