Complaints Process

Who can make a complaint?

The Complaints and Appeals Office (CAO) accepts comments, compliments and complaints from anyone who has direct dealings with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), on matters related to the quality of the CFIA's service delivery or decisions made by CFIA staff which are typically regulatory in nature. This includes regulated parties, stakeholders, and members of the public.

How do I make a complaint?

A complaint can be made in a variety of ways:

  • Online
  • By email
  • By mail
  • By telephone
  • By fax

Submitting your complaint

You should complete the CAO intake form and include the following information:

  • Your name, address and telephone number (i.e. Part 1)
  • A brief description of your complaint – who was involved, what occurred, when it took place and where it happened and why you believe the situation is unacceptable or unfair (i.e. Part 2, Question 1)
  • The steps that you have taken to try to resolve your complaint including who you have contacted within the CFIA and the result (i.e. Part 2, Question 2)
  • How you would like to see the complaint resolved (i.e. Part 2, Question 3)
  • Copies of any relevant documentation (e.g. correspondence, pictures, certificates, etc.)

We ask that you try to resolve your complaint directly with the CFIA staff who are involved. If that does not work then you should attempt to speak with that employee's supervisor (manager or director) before bringing the complaint to the CAO. This incremental approach gives the employees and their management team, the opportunity to resolve complaints before they escalate.

Acknowledging your complaint

The CAO will acknowledge your complaint by email, by phone or by fax within two business days of receipt of your complaint. You will also be assigned a file number for future reference.

What can I complain about?

You can register a complaint about any CFIA service, action, decision, regulation, policy, program or procedure or treatment of you by CFIA staff. This includes when you:

  • are not satisfied with the service provided by CFIA staff,
  • perceive that you experienced undue delays caused by CFIA staff,
  • believe that the CFIA has made an error,
  • disagree with CFIA decisions (e.g., those decisions relating to licensing, registration, permits, orders, inspection results, seizure, labelling and other items), or
  • disagree with CFIA regulations, policies and procedures.

Is it too late to make my complaint?

Complaints should be made within 12 months of the incident or CFIA decision that is the focus of the complaint.

The CAO does not normally accept complaints about issues that occurred more than a year ago unless there are special circumstances associated with the matter. For instance, if new information has come to light or there has been a further development, the CAO will then consider reviewing the matter.

Are there complaints that the Complaints and Appeals Office (CAO) will not review?

The CAO will triage your complaint to determine whether it falls within the CAO mandate and can therefore be reviewed. Your complaint will fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Existing Process - when the CAO determines there is already an existing mechanism to deal with the complaint. Examples include:
    • an appeal of a compensation decision under the Health of Animals Act or Plant Protection Act,
    • a request for re-inspection under the Fish Inspection Act,
    • an appeal of decisions made under the Administrative Monetary Penalties Act,
    • a food complaint from a consumer (food safety or non-food safety),
    • a dissatisfaction with a Board of Arbitration decision for fresh fruit and vegetables,
    • a trade complaint made by industry or a competitor.
  2. No review - when the CAO determines that they can not investigate the matter. These are generally issues that are already before the courts or under CFIA investigation for potential prosecution. In addition, they could be events that occurred more than 12 months in the past.
  3. Review - when the CAO determines the complaint relates to CFIA quality of service or regulatory program or other decision made by CFIA officials. These generally include matters of staff behaviour, undue delays, poor or misleading information, mistakes, administrative errors, decisions related to licensing, registration, permits, orders, inspection results, seizure, labelling and other items.

Can I remain anonymous?

All of the information that you provide to us is subject to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. The Access to Information Act gives Canadian citizens the right to access information in federal government records. The Privacy Act gives Canadian citizens, as well as individuals present in Canada, the right to access their personal information which is held by the Government and protection of that information against unauthorized use and disclosure.

At your request we will make every attempt to treat your complaint anonymously. In some situations it may not be possible to complete a comprehensive review without disclosing your information (e.g., name, company name etc.) to CFIA officials. This decision will be taken on a case by case basis.

Reviewing your complaint

After receiving your complaint we will assign a file number and a Complaints Analyst to your file. A Complaints Analyst will request a call with you to gather more information about your complaint and to ensure that they have a good understanding of all of the details.

Once your complaint is thoroughly understood and has been reviewed, the Complaints Analyst will conduct a preliminary inquiry within the CFIA which may include:

  • asking the Agency technical specialists to provide their perspective on the issue
  • reviewing relevant technical documents provided (e.g., procedures, policies, regulations, phytosanitary certificates, notices of removal, inspection files etc.)
  • meeting with Agency staff to explore any options for addressing the issue

Once all of the relevant information has been gathered and you and the Agency contact have had an opportunity to provide comments, the CAO will consider both viewpoints before making a determination about the incident. We may find that the CFIA's actions or decisions were reasonable, that your matter has been adequately addressed or we may make recommendations to the CFIA on reconsidering your matter. You and the Agency management will be informed of the decision and the rationale for our findings.

The CAO is an impartial office. After reviewing all information and documents/policies that are relevant to your issue, we will determine if CFIA decisions and actions are being implemented consistently as per the established procedures, in a timely manner and professionally as outlined in the CFIA's Statement of Rights and Service.

The CAO is currently operating as an administrative redress office which means that we do not have the legal authority to amend specific CFIA decisions. If the CAO - through the review process - identifies a specific CFIA decision that should be amended or reconsidered, we advise CFIA management. A request for review by the CAO does not change or stay the CFIA decision under review. The decision remains valid and enforceable while the review is taking place.

Occasionally, we may find after speaking separately with the complainant and the Agency that the best next step is to facilitate discussions between the complainant and the CFIA. Once communications are restored and there is a willingness to work together to resolve a matter, we will close the file to allow the complainant and the Agency to continue working toward a successful resolution on their own. All complainants are invited to return to the CAO if they remain dissatisfied after their discussions with the way the CFIA has addressed or failed to address their complaint.

Closing your complaint

Following the review of your file the CAO will contact you by phone with information, options, next steps and final decisions. We will send this same information to you in writing following the closing phone call. Once you receive your letter outlining the outcome, you may have additional comments. You can contact our office and we will work to find answers for you.

What happens after my complaint is closed?

The Chief Redress Officer will sometimes highlight potential opportunities for improvement to CFIA's senior management. These recommendations could range from the identification of policies or procedures that need to be updated or clarified to areas that could benefit from improved service delivery.

Timeframes

We will try to resolve your complaint as quickly as possible.

Within two business days we will send you an acknowledgement that we received your complaint and assign you a file number for future reference.

We take all complaints seriously and we will keep you up to date with regular feedback throughout the review of your matter. The length of the review will depend on the level of complexity of the matter and the availability of the complainant and CFIA officials to contribute to the information gathering stage of the review.

You can find further information on our service standards here: Complaints and Appeals Office (CAO) Service Standards.

Records Management

The CAO will make every attempt to treat your complaint anonymously if it is your preference to do so. This decision is taken on a case by case basis as it may not always be possible to carry out a comprehensive review without full disclosure of information such as your name, your company's name, and your paperwork (for example, the relevant export certificate).

The CAO will only share information about your file with the CFIA on a "need to know" basis. Sharing information may be required to allow us to carry out our duties and perform a thorough review. For example, if we are asking the CFIA for information about an incident that you have reported to us we may need to disclose some information about your complaint in order to obtain the CFIA perspective on the matter.

All of the information that you provide to us is subject to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. The Access to Information Act gives Canadian citizens the right to access information in federal government records. The Privacy Act gives Canadian citizens, as well as individuals present in Canada, the right to access their personal information which is held by the Government and protection of that information against unauthorized use and disclosure.

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