Internal Audit Report
Audit of CFIA External Stakeholder Complaints Process

2.0 Introduction

2.1 Background

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA, the Agency) is a regulatory agency responsible for administrating and enforcing 13 federal statutes and 38 sets of regulations, for supporting a sustainable plant and animal resource base and regulating the safety and quality of food sold in Canada. New legislation was passed in November 2012, the Safe Food for Canadians Act, and once fully in force, will bring into effect new regulations and provide the necessary legal framework for a more consistent approach to strengthening food inspection in Canada.

CFIA has approximately 6,750 employees stationed in field offices, laboratories and food processing facilities across the country. The CFIA's activities include verifying the compliance of imported products; registering and inspecting establishments; testing food as well as plants and animals along with their related products; and approving the use of many agricultural inputs.

The Agency developed a Statement of Rights and Service for Producers, Consumers and Other Stakeholders (the Statement) and guides with the objective of offering stakeholders and CFIA staff a clear, plain language explanation of the CFIA's commitment to:

  • transparent decision making;
  • accessible and timely information;
  • fair, respectful and unbiased interactions with stakeholders; and
  • responsiveness and continuous improvement.

Based on the Statement, and in order to undertake a more comprehensive approach to transparency and service delivery, CFIA implemented a more effective, visible and accessible process for stakeholders to provide feedback and register complaints within the Agency.

CFIA Complaints and Appeals Office

The Complaints and Appeals Office (CAO) of CFIA resides within the Integrity and Redress Secretariat and has been operational since April 1, 2012.

The CAO is designed to provide consumers, producers and industry stakeholders in Canada's agriculture and agri-food industry with a transparent and accessible way to register complaints. The CAO reviews complaints related to the quality of CFIA's services, administrative errors and regulatory decisions. The CAO also welcomes and registers all compliments and comments.

The CAO is responsible for giving direction and advice on managing complaints, encouraging CFIA to respect the CAO's policy and processes, leading the management of all complaints received by the office and responding to the complainant with an outcome of the review. Finally, it is responsible for tracking all complaints, compliments and comments, collecting metrics and analyzing the data captured. As outlined in the Complaints and Appeals Administrative Policy, the data analysis is used to identify repetitive issues within CFIA and opportunities for improvement, shared with senior management and used by CFIA to develop and enhance work plans for improving programs and policies, tool development and service delivery.

Complainants are encouraged to resolve complaints 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.

However, if a complainant does not feel comfortable discussing the issue directly with the employee or manager, the CAO will accept the complaint without the complainant having followed the incremental steps.

As defined in the CAO's Complaints and Appeals Administrative Policy, a complaint is a concern brought forward by an external stakeholder related to the delivery of activities or programs mandated by CFIA. Complaints are categorized as either regulatory or service. During the last two fiscal years (2014-15 and 2015-16), the CAO received a total of 168 complaints (90 regulatory and 78 service-related complaints). Since the implementation of CFIA's Complaints and Appeals Office in 2012, the number of complaints year-over-year have increased 1% to 2% per year.

Based on information gathered during a complaint review, the CAO determines whether the available facts support the complaint as founded, unfounded or inconclusive. In some cases, there is no review of the complaint or it is withdrawn such as when a complaint does not fall within the scope of CAO, or when the complainant withdraws or abandons their submission at some point during the course of a complaint review.

The CAO does not review legal disputes, internal disclosures, cases where redress is not being sought, or where there is already an existing appeal or review process. The CAO will refer complaints related to these matters to the existing mechanism within CFIA for resolution.

2.2 Significance

CFIA's 2016-2017 Report on Plans and Priorities identified a "Focus on Service Excellence" as a priority. The CFIA strives for continuous improvement in dealings with external stakeholders and is committed to providing quality service that is consistent, professional, timely and fair. A core component to meeting this objective is to provide external stakeholders with a formal channel to communicate compliments and complaints. It is important to ensure that the Agency has established key processes and controls to handle complaints in order to support this priority.

With the implementation of the Safe Food for Canadians Act, CFIA regulations will likely change, resulting in greater flexibility for inspectors to adapt to different situations and select appropriate responses. As well, these changes will likely result in an increased number of regulated parties. The Agency is also implementing a new inspection model that sets out a standardized and consistent process to deliver systems-based inspections across business lines and commodities. This will change the way CFIA inspectors approach their work, the tasks they perform, and how they capture and report the inspections they carry out. An increase in the number of regulated parties may result in an increase in the volume of complaints.

The handling of external complaints was deemed a high priority through the 2016/17 to 2018/19 risk-based audit planning process. This is the Agency's first audit of processes and controls related to external complaints, as the CAO was formed in 2012.

2.3 Objective

The objective of the audit was to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the management of the external complaints processes and key controls that have been established by the Complaints and Appeals Office to support its mandate.

2.4 Scope

The scope of the audit focused on the management of external complaints by the Complaints and Appeals Office consisting of, but not limited to:

  • Extent to which performance measures and service standards are in place to help ensure strategic objectives of the Complaints and Appeals Office are met;
  • External and internal communication and outreach initiatives to inform stakeholders of the complaints process;
  • Mechanisms in place to help establish continuous improvement within the Agency as a result of information received through the complaints process;
  • Effectiveness and efficiency of processes and controls related to complaints handling;
  • The manner in which sensitive information is controlled and secured; and,
  • Training initiatives and tools made available to Complaints and Appeals Office analysts.

The audit covered the period between April 1, 2014 and March 31, 2016. The audit was conducted between April and August 2016.

The audit did not review complaints that are handled and closed at the district, regional and area levels or the CAO's Alternate Dispute Resolution process. Similarly, the audit did not review complaints that the CAO does not have authority to receive, such as those covered by various acts and regulations administered by CFIA that contain existing mechanisms for recourse such as appeal of compensation decisions under the Health of Animals Regulations, request for re-inspection under the Fish Inspection Act and appeal of decisions made under the Administrative Monetary Penalties Act.

The scope of the audit excluded appeals as necessary regulations to host appeals are currently on hold. Appeals will be considered in future risk-based audit plans once this process is implemented.

2.5 Approach

The following procedures were performed in the audit:

  • Reviewed documentation and CFIA websites (internal and external) relating to the processing of complaints; performance information; CAO communications activities;
  • Reviewed documentation relating to tracking, monitoring and reporting of complaints; CAO Analyst training plans and materials, and accountabilities for continuous improvement;
  • Assessed historical performance data relating to established service standards;
  • Interviewed CAO personnel and a limited selection of branch management;
  • Conducted limited enquiry of the complaints process at other federal government organizations; and
  • Tested a sample of external complaints that were initiated and closed during the scope period to determine if documented processes and controls were operating as intended.

2.6 Statement of Conformance

The audit conforms to the Internal Auditing Standards for the Government of Canada, as supported by the results of the CFIA's internal audit quality assurance and improvement program. Sufficient and appropriate auditing procedures were performed and evidence gathered in accordance with Institute of Internal Auditor's International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing and to provide a high level of assurance over the findings and conclusion in this report. The findings and conclusions expressed in this report are based on conditions as they existed at the time of the audit, and apply only to the entity examined.

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