Integrated Agency Inspection Model – Consultation Draft (December 4, 2013)
Annex E: Complaints Process

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Who can make a complaint?

The Complaints and Appeals Office (CAO) accepts comments, compliments and complaints from anyone who has dealings with the 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 can a complaint be made?

A complaint can be made in a variety of ways:

  • Online
  • By email
  • By mail
  • By telephone
  • By fax
  • In person

Submitting a complaint

Completion of the CAO intake form is required.

The CAO encourages persons with a complaint to try to resolve the complaint directly with the CFIA staff who are involved. If that does not work, an attempt to speak with that employee's supervisor (manager or director) before bringing the complaint to the CAO is encouraged. This incremental approach gives the employees and their management team, the opportunity to resolve complaints before they escalate.

CAO acknowledges complaints

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

Making a complaint

Individuals may make a complaint about any CFIA service, action, decision, regulation, policy, program or procedure or treatment. This includes situations when an individual:

  • is not satisfied with the service provided by CFIA staff,
  • perceives that they experienced undue delays caused by CFIA staff,
  • believes that the CFIA has made an error,
  • disagrees with CFIA decisions (e.g., those decisions relating to licensing, registration, permits, orders, inspection results, seizure, product identification and other items), or
  • disagrees with CFIA regulations, policies and procedures.

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 triages the complaint to determine whether it falls within the CAO mandate and can therefore be reviewed. A 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 Regulations,
    • an appeal of decisions made under the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act,
    • a food complaint from a consumer (food safety or non-food safety),
    • 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 it cannot investigate the matter. These are generally issues that are already before the courts. 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 and detention, product identification and other items.

Can the person complaining remain anonymous?

All of the information that is provided to the CFIA 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.

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

Reviewing the complaint

A Complaints Analyst will request a call with the complainant to gather more information about the complaint and to ensure there is a good understanding of all of the details.

Once the 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 the complainant and the Agency contact have had an opportunity to provide comments, the CAO will consider both viewpoints before making a determination about the incident. The CAO may find that the CFIA's actions or decisions were reasonable, or that the matter has been adequately addressed or the Complaints Analyst may make recommendations to the CFIA on reconsidering the matter. The complainant and the Agency management will be informed of the decision and the rationale for the findings.

The CAO is an impartial office. After reviewing all information and documents/policies that are relevant to the issue, the CAO 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 it does not have the legal authority to modify specific CFIA decisions. If the CAO - through the review process - identifies a specific CFIA decision that should be reconsidered, the CAO advises 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, the CAO may find, after speaking separately with the complainant and the Agency, the best next step is to facilitate discussions between the complainant and the CFIA. Once communications are restored and there is willingness to work together to resolve a matter, the CAO 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 a complaint

Following the review of the file the CAO will contact the complainant by telephone with information, options, next steps and final decisions. The CAO will send this same information to the complainant in writing following the closing telephone call. Once the complainant receives the letter outlining the outcome, the complainant may have additional comments. The complainant can contact the CAO office and it will work to find answers.

What happens after a 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

The CAO will try to resolve a complaint as quickly as possible. The CAO takes all complaints seriously and it will keep the complainant up to date with regular feedback throughout the review of the 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.

Within two business days the CAO will send an acknowledgement that it received the complaint and assign a file number for future reference. Other service standards are in development.

Records Management

The CAO will make every attempt to treat a complaint anonymously if it is the complainant's 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. The law respecting access to information and privacy will be respected.

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

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