Area of Law: Criminal Records
Answer # 2113
What is a Freedom of Information Request?Region: Ontario Answer # 2113
Any individual can make a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to any organization covered by federal, provincial, or municipal privacy laws. The type of information available in an FOI search includes medical information, social insurance number information, criminal record information, and so on. This type of request also can be known by different names – Personal Information, or Access to Information – depending on the jurisdiction and the individual police service.
The person must first decide what type of information is sought and which organization is most likely to have the information. Otherwise, it is too cumbersome for the authorities to check all possible data banks. The application process and the way the information is presented vary depending on which government office is providing it.
Criminal records are most commonly held by local or regional police services and the RCMP. Privacy laws at every level give everyone the right to request access to their own criminal record information. A standard form is submitted to the relevant police service, along with a small processing fee.
When is information not disclosed?
Records must be disclosed unless they fall within an exemption. If disclosing some or all of a record would invade the personal privacy of third parties, threaten anyone’s health or safety, or harm law-enforcement efforts, then an institution may refuse to disclose it. This could be the case, for example, if the police want to keep a suspect’s identity secret for an ongoing investigation. In these situations, the police service could provide partial disclosure with a letter explaining the reasons for non-disclosure of the rest of the information.
What if a request for information is denied?
If a police service refuses to disclose all or part of an individual’s criminal record, an appeal can be made to the appropriate information and privacy commissioner. Depending on the jurisdiction, the appeal process may include mediation. If there is no settlement at the mediation stage, an adjudicator will review the application and may investigate it, which could lead to a formal hearing and decision. A decision of the privacy commission can also be appealed to the court and ultimately decided there.
RCMP Privacy Act request
A request to the RCMP under the federal Privacy Act, will reveal personal information that the RCMP has about you. There is no cost for this search.
RCMP Access to Information Act request
A request to the RCMP under the Access to Information Act, will reveal any information that the RCMP has on record that is not personal in nature, or is personal in nature, but is not about you. Before making a request to receive personal information for someone other than yourself, you must obtain the person’s written consent. In the case of someone who has died, you must provide a death certificate. The written consent with the person’s original signature must be submitted with the request (photocopies, emails and faxes are not accepted). The fee for this report is $5.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence, refer to our criminal law section.
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