Area of Law: Government and The Justice System
Answer # 715
Freedom of Information: Accessing public recordsRegion: Ontario Answer # 715
Public right to access government information
Generally, information produced or gathered by government offices and agencies is accessible to the public. Government information can be valuable for businesses, reporters, and people involved in lawsuits. Some information is easily accessible, such as legislation, Commission Reports, or court cases because it is published and distributed in libraries, government book stores, and online. However, some information is not readily available without requesting it, such as government salaries, internal memos, expenses, and reports on sensitive subject matters.
In Ontario, there are three main laws that regulate requests for information held by a government office:
- Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA)
- Provincial: Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA)
- Federal: Access to Information Act
Provincial and municipal information
To request information from a provincial or municipal office, you can first make an informal request by calling, writing or visiting the government office from which you want to collect the information. An online Directory of Records for provincial government organizations is available on the Ontario Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) website. Municipal government offices have their own directories available in a number of places, including city halls, police departments and boards of education.
If you are not able obtain the information you are looking for this way, you may submit a formal freedom of information request. To make a formal request, you must complete a request for information form. Request forms are available at most government offices. A generic request form is available online from the IPC website. You must then submit the request, along with a small fee, to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Coordinator at the government office from which you want to collect the information.
When making a request, both formal and informal, you must state the law under which the request is being made: the Provincial FIPPA, or the Municipal MFIPPA.
The Coordinator has 30 days to respond to your request.
Appeals to IPC
If your request is denied, you can appeal to the IPC by filling out forms available at the IPC office. Appeals must be made within 30 days of the government’s decision. For more information, contact the Ontario Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
For federal offices, you also have the option of making an informal request or a formal request. These requests are made pursuant to the Access to Information Act.
To make an informal request for information, call the office you want information from and ask who in the office you should make the request to. Write a letter to this person requesting the information. If your informal request is denied, you make make a formal request.
To make a formal request, you are required to fill out an Access to Information Request Form. A generic Access to Information Request form, which can be used for most federal offices, is available online from the Government of Canada website. There is no fee. Submit the request to the Access to Information Coordinator assigned to the federal office or agency you want information from.
If your request is denied, or if you have a complaint about the procedure, you can speak with someone at the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada (OIC) to discuss your options. If you would like to make a complaint, you may do so for reasons, such as:
- you believe you were improperly denied access to the information requested;
- the request process is taking too long;
- the request fees are too high;
- you did not receive the information in your official language of choice; or
- for other reasonable grounds.
Except in the case where your request is taking too long, you must submit your complaint to the OIC within 60 days of receiving your answer from the relevant federal institution.
The OIC will assign an Investigator to your case. The Investigator will give you an opportunity to present your complaint and will also obtain information from the federal institution in question. In many cases, the OIC Investigator will attempt to settle the complain by mediation, unless the Investigator decides the institution acted properly. The OIC will report its decision to you.
Regardless of whether the OIC agrees with your complaint, you have the right to take your case to the Federal Court of Canada for a review of the federal institution’s original decision.
In addition, the Commissioner may also decide to take a case to the Federal Court if it involves an important point of law. In such cases, the OIC must first receive your approval to do so.
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