Responding to Access Requests

Government institutions are required to provide individuals with a right of access to certain general records and to their own personal information, with limited exceptions.

The laws also provide individuals with a right to request correction of their own personal information that they have received through a request. Individuals may appeal to the IPC if a request for access or for correction is refused.

 

LIST OF INSTITUTIONS 

People can make a request for information from:

  • Ontario government ministries
  • most public agencies, boards, commissions and advisory bodies
  • school boards, colleges and universities
  • public hospitals
  • the police
  • municipalities
  • some publicly funded institutions (e.g. museums, libraries)

Full list of public-sector institutions covered by Freedom of Information laws.

 

TYPES OF RECORDS

The Directory of Records describes what kinds of information are held by provincial ministries and agencies covered by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). 

Municipal government institutions should have their own directories available at offices such as city halls, police departments and boards of education.

FIPPA and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) allow people to request any record of information in any form including a letter, report, computer tape, microfilm, videotape, sound recording, electronic document or email.

 

RESPONDING TO ACCESS REQUESTS

Government institutions may require an individual to make a written (formal) freedom of information request by completing a request form or writing a letter to the institution requesting general records or personal information under FIPPA or MFIPPA.

Not all requests for information need to be made formally. Government institutions are encouraged to respond to informal (verbal) requests for access.

 

TIMING

Institutions have 30 days to respond to request for access, and must do so in writing.

 

EXEMPTIONS: MANDATORY AND DISCRETIONARY

There are two types of exemptions in FIPPA and MFIPPA.

Mandatory exemptions require the head of an institution to refuse to disclose the record. Mandatory exemptions begin with the words: “a head shall refuse to disclose…”

Discretionary exemptions allow the head to disclose a record, despite the existence of the exemption. Discretionary exemptions are introduced by the words: “(A) head may refuse to disclose…”

Requesters may appeal institutions’ decisions by writing or by filling out our appeal form and sending it to the IPC Registrar at the address on the form.

Examples of exclusions and exemptions include:

  • cabinet records
  • court records
  • records containing certain law enforcement information
  • records that could prejudice intergovernmental relations
  • personal information that could invade the privacy of an individual
  • certain records supplied in confidence by a third party
  • most labour relations records

 

FEES, ESTIMATES AND FEE WAIVERS

Institutions must charge the mandatory $5.00 application fee for each freedom of information request. Additional fees may be charged for services, such as photocopying and shipping, in accordance with the fees prescribed by regulation.

No fees may be charged for the time required to locate and prepare records containing the requestor’s own personal information.

Individuals may be charged some of the administrative costs involved in responding to their requests, with certain limited exceptions.

Fees should never be used as a deterrent or barrier to access. Institutions’ decisions on fees, fee estimates and fee waivers are all matters that may be appealed to the IPC.

 

FEE ESTIMATES

A fee estimate is a detailed statement of the fee the requester will be required to pay. A fee estimate is required where the fee is $25.00 or more.

Where the fee is above $25.00 and under $100.00, the fee estimate is based on the actual work done by the institution to respond to the request.

Where the fee is $100.00 or more, the fee estimate may be based on a review of a representative sample of the records and/or the advice of knowledgeable institution staff that are familiar with the type and content of the records.

 

FEE WAIVERS

Whenever fees are assessed, the institution should advise the requester that FIPPA and MFIPPA permit the waiver of payment of all or part of the fee, in certain circumstances, if, in the head’s opinion, it is fair and equitable to do.


Basics for Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Coordinators (FOIC)
The public has a right to access records and information relating to government activities, ranging from administrative and operations to legislation and policy. This is the primary principle of Open Government. Protection of Privacy refers to the safeguarding of personal information held by government institutions, and the right of individuals to see their own personal information and have it corrected if necessary. As a FOIC, your work with the IPC will mostly involve responding to appeals ...