2022 Reports 1 to 4 of the Auditor General of Canada
Opening Statement before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts
2022 Reports 1 to 4 of the Auditor General of Canada
2 June 2022
Karen Hogan, Fellow Chartered Professional AccountantFCPA, Fellow Chartered AccountantFCA
Auditor General of Canada
Mr. Chair, I would like to acknowledge that this hearing is taking place on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg People.
I am pleased to be here today today to discuss 4 performance audit reports that were tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday. My reports also include copies of the special examinations of Farm Credit Canada and of the Federal Bridge Corporation Limited. These 2 reports were made public by the Crown corporations in February and May of this year.
I am accompanied today by Carey Agnew, Carol McCalla and Nicholas Swales, the principals who were responsible for the performance audits.
As I near the third year of my mandate, I’m feeling more frustrated than hopeful. As much as I’d like to report that government programs and services improve once weaknesses are identified, I find that is seldom the case.
For us, the story is too often familiar—over years of auditing, we report slow progress and results that are stagnant or worsening. Information that could help Canadians understand whether results are getting better or worse is at best incomplete. In many programs and departments, it seems that too often people run into barriers when accessing programs and services they are entitled to.
Let me turn first to our audit of systemic barriers in correctional services. We wanted to know whether Correctional Service Canada delivered interventions that reflect the ever growing diversity of the offender population. This included whether corrections staff had the cultural awareness and sensitivity to deliver programs that meet the diverse needs of offenders.
While we set out to look at whether the department was meeting the needs of its offender population, what we found were outcomes showing that certain groups of offenders were disadvantaged by systemic barriers that affect their timely access to parole. In particular, we found that Indigenous and Black offenders experienced poorer outcomes than any other groups in the correctional system. They also faced greater barriers to a safe and gradual reintegration into society.
A systemic barrier results from seemingly neutral policies, procedures, or practices that disadvantage one or more groups. We found not only systemic barriers but also, in my view, systemic racism in certain instances where those seemingly neutral policies, procedures, or practices have persisted, and have resulted in disproportionately different treatment of some groups of racialized offenders.
Correctional Service Canada has failed to identify and eliminate the systemic barriers that persistently disadvantaged Indigenous and Black offenders in custody. We raised similar issues in our audits in 2015, 2016 and 2017, yet the department has done little to change the policies, practices, tools, and approaches that produce these differing outcomes.
We found that barriers were present from the moment offenders entered federal institutions. For example, Indigenous and Black offenders were assigned to maximum security institutions by staff at twice the rate of other groups of offenders. They also remained in custody longer and at higher levels of security before their release.
We also found that timely access to correctional programs designed to prepare offenders for release and support their successful reintegration into the community had continued to decline since our 3 past audits. By December 2021, with the additional impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic, only 6% of men offenders had accessed the programs they needed before they were first eligible to apply for parole.
Different outcomes for certain groups of racialized and Indigenous offenders have persisted for too long. Correctional Service Canada must identify and remove systemic barriers to eliminate systemic racism in corrections, including meeting its own commitment to better reflect the diversity of the offender population in its workforce. The Department needs to address representation gaps—namely Indigenous representation across all institutions, gender representation in women’s institutions, and representation at institutions with a high number of Black offenders.
Next, I will turn to our audit of hard-to-reach populations. We wanted to know whether the federal government ensured that individuals in low-income groups could access the Canada Child Benefit, the Canada Workers Benefit, the Guaranteed Income Supplement, and the Canada Learning Bond.
The Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada know that not everyone who could receive these benefits is getting them. These individuals who may be unaware of benefits available to them include low-income groups who are not easily served through regular channels, Indigenous persons, seniors, newcomers to Canada, and persons with disabilities. These hard-to-reach populations often face one or more barriers to access benefits. As such, they require more help from government.
The Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada lacked a clear and complete picture of the people are not accessing benefits. The Agency and the Department also did not know whether most of their targeted outreach activities had helped to increase the benefit take‑up rates for hard‑to‑reach populations.
We also found that the Agency and the Department overstated the rates of people accessing benefits because they did not always account for people who had not filed income tax returns—a requirement to access most benefits.
Though the Agency and the Department have taken some action, they still lack a comprehensive plan to connect people with benefits. As a result, they are failing to improve the lives of some individuals and families who may need these benefits the most.
Our third audit focused on the processing of disability benefits claims for veterans from the Canadian Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Overall, we found that veterans waited almost 10 months for a decision when first applying for benefits. Processing timelines were longer for Francophones, women, and Royal Canadian Mounted PoliceRCMP veterans.
We also found that the department’s data on how it processes benefits applications—and the organization of this data—were poor. Because of this, Veterans Affairs Canada was unable to determine whether its initiatives to improve the treatment of claims have sped up the process or made it worse.
We noted that both the funding and almost half of the employees on the team responsible for processing applications were temporary. The Department also lacked a long-term staffing plan. The combined impact of these shortcomings means that veterans are waiting too long to receive benefits. They experience unacceptable delays that can significantly impact their well-being and their families.
Our last report today is a follow-up on our 2015 audit on the use of gender-based analysis plus in government, or GBA Plus. This is an analysis tool to help reduce existing and potential inequalities based on gender and other intersecting identity factors.
Overall, our audit showed that the government does not know whether its actions are achieving better gender equality outcomes for diverse groups of people. In many cases, the analysis had been completed but we did not see a concrete impact on outcomes.
We found that longstanding challenges that we previously identified continue to hinder the full implementation of GBA Plus across government. Although the lead organizations have addressed some of the recommendations from our 2015 audit, many others date back to our first audit of GBA in 2009.
Some of the challenges include gaps in the capacity to perform a gender-based analysis and the lack of data available on demographic factors. In addition, we found that the government doesn’t know if GBA Plus is achieving its goals because impacts have not been measured and reported on in a consistent and structured manner.
The Privy Council Office, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, and Women and Gender Equality Canada need to better collaborate and ensure that all departments and agencies fully integrate GBA Plus in a way that produces real results for all Canadians.
To sum up, these audits point to long-standing problems and barriers across a broad range of government activity. These barriers are unacceptable, whether faced by Indigenous and Black offenders or by low-income individuals and veterans accessing benefits. As to the barriers that GBA Plus is meant to break down, while there is a greater dialogue and awareness today of gender and identity factors, actions have yet to catch up with words.
The federal government must do better. All of Canada’s people, no matter their gender, race, ability, or geographical location, deserve better—much better.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have. Thank you.