The government records disposition program of Library and Archives Canada: Program synopsis

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The legislative framework for disposition

Every year, federal government institutions create and manage information in all media of recorded communication in support of public policy, the administration of government, and the delivery of programmes and services to Canadians.

In accordance with Library and Archives of Canada Act (2004), Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is charged with various responsibilities regarding the disposal of this information.  The Act establishes the authority of the Librarian and Archivist:

  • to control the disposal or destruction of records by government institutions
    "no government or ministerial record, whether or not it is surplus property of a government institution, shall be disposed of, including by being destroyed, without the written consent of the Librarian and Archivist or of a person to whom the Librarian and Archivist has, in writing, delegated the power to give such consents" (Section 12.1)
  • to preserve records identified by the Librarian and Archivist to have historical or archival importance
    "the transfer to the care and control of the Librarian and Archivist of government or ministerial records that he or she considers to have historic or archival value shall be effected in accordance with any agreements for the transfer of records that may be made between the Librarian and Archivist and the government institution or person responsible for the records" (Section 13.1)
  • and to take whatever measures and steps are deemed necessary to achieve these goals and objectives (Sections 7 and 8).

Therefore, by virtue of the Library and Archives of Canada Act, the disposal of records managed by government institutions covered by the Act must occur under processes and procedures which permit the identification and preservation of archival and historical records.  A government institution is subject to the Library and Archives of Canada Act if it is listed in Schedule 1 of the Access to Information Act or in the Schedule to the Privacy Act.

Disposition authorizations

To meet  legislative requirements, Library and Archives Canada issues disposition authorizations to enable government institutions to dispose of records which no longer have operational value, either by permitting their destruction (at the discretion of institutions), by requiring their transfer to Library and Archives Canada, or by agreeing to their alienation from the control of the Government of Canada (GC).

Disposition authorizations are issued to government institutions subject to the Act in one of two ways:

  1. On an institution-specific basis, through the provision of disposition authorizations which relate to records managed by a single government institution, and which allow the institution to dispose of records according to the terms set by Library and Archives Canada.  These are known as “Institution Specific Disposition Authorizations” (ISDAs).

  2. On a multi-institution basis, through the provision of disposition authorizations which relate to records managed by all or an identified group of government institutions, and which allow the institutions empowered to use the authorizations to dispose of records under terms set by Library and Archives Canada. These are known as "Multi-Institution Disposition Authorizations" (MIDAs). 

Any authorization to dispose of records granted by Library and Archives Canada to a government institution indicates that LAC has determined that these records do not need to be preserved for the future historical or archival use of Canadians.  The authorization grants permission to dispose of records only in relation to the Act; GC institutions are solely responsible for determining any legal liability resulting from the application of any other federal legislation or legal requirement. 

It is important to note that a disposition authorization issued by LAC to permit the destruction of records by a government institution does not constitute a requirement to destroy, nor does it provide direction regarding the timing of records destruction. Accountability regarding the decision to destroy records and the timing of records destruction rests solely with individual government institutions.

Appraisal methodology

The quantity of information created by the GC has increased steadily since the end of the Second World War, and exponentially so since the advent and widespread use of digital information technologies. Currently, there are close to 200 GC institutions subject to the LAC Act which create records that need to be appraised in order to provide full disposition coverage.

Government record archivists identify, select and acquire the best records to document departmental programs and activities. Through arranging and describing those records in their appropriate context, they aid researchers in accessing and interpreting the records. As the volume of information created and maintained by departments increases, these roles become more crucial.

The goal of archival appraisal of GC records is to identify the best available source for documenting government activities of long-term interest to Canadians.

LAC draws on macroappraisal methodology to identify records of historical or archival value for institutions subject to the LAC Act, emphasizing the context of records creation over content. Under macroappraisal, analysis is carried out to understand the role of the records creator within society and the Government of Canada, its relationship to other government institutions and citizens, and its mandate and activities over time.

See more about the history of LAC’s macroappraisal methodology.

The Records Disposition Authorities Control System (RDACS)

The Records Disposition Authorities Control System (RDACS) includes a detailed description of disposition instruments issued by LAC (more than 2300 such instruments), a database of federal institutions and their responsibilities in terms of disposition, relevant documents as well as comments and revisions entered by archivists, along with a custom search tool. The system is accessible to LAC staff and, since 2004, to all federal institutions that have access to SecureChannel (the federal government extranet).

Retention periods for records in government institutions

The determination of retention periods for records managed by government institutions in the conduct of government business is the sole responsibility of individual institutions. Such determination occurs within the context of the GC institution's assessment of its business needs and risks in relation to information management, taking into account federal information law as well as other statutes or regulations which may have application to the retention of records. However, Library and Archives Canada facilitates the means by which government institutions can set retention periods for their records by providing advice and serving as a source of expertise.

Disposition authorizations issued by Library and Archives Canada to government institutions do not provide an approval for the retention periods which are necessary to the life-cycle management and disposal of records by institutions.

The protection of archival records and their transfer to Library and Archives Canada

Disposition authorizations that require government institutions to transfer records to Library and Archives Canada for archival preservation are accompanied by standards and guidelines that outline the obligations of the GC institution with respect to archival records. The Operational Standard for the Use of Disposition Authorizations outlines the requirements for government institutions to use disposition authorizations.  The Procedures for the Transfer of Unpublished Information Resources of Enduring Value from Government of Canada Institutions to Library and Archives Canada provide information for the safe transfer of archival records in all media to Library and Archives Canada.

Questions about disposition?

Contact LAC’s  Liaison Centre (BAC.Centredeliaison-Liaisoncentre.LAC@canada.ca).

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