Summary:
Updated: September 25, 2020

Notice to the Public and Institutions

To protect the health of our employees and to do our part to slow community transmission of the COVID-19 virus, the IPC has closed its physical office, but remains virtually open with IPC employees working from home.

Although most tribunal services have not been operating as usual, we are working to process incoming appeals and we continue to provide services to the public, public sector organizations, and the health and child and family services sectors. Despite our best efforts, members of the public who have filed appeals with our office should expect some delays.

We remain available to public organizations for consultation and discussions on access and privacy matters during this time.

We continue to update these FAQs as we get more information. You can also reach us by emailing info@ipc.on.ca.

Tips for Working from Home

We understand that these are exceptional circumstances. Many organizations are striving to manage service disruptions and continue to provide services virtually by digitizing records and enabling employees to work from home.

The IPC has published some practical data management tips for employees dealing with personal information when working from home.

To learn more, read the IPC’s fact sheet, Working from Home During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

We will continue to evaluate this evolving situation and provide regular updates here and on Twitter @IPCinfoprivacy.

Frequently Asked Questions

When will the IPC reopen?

When will the IPC reopen?

Our top priority is keeping the public and all IPC staff safe during the COVID-19 outbreak.

While our physical office is closed for the foreseeable future, IPC employees are working virtually from home. When our office will physically re-open depends on the evolving situation, the stage of Ontario’s re-opening, the status of Ontario’s broader public service, municipal directives, and by-laws for the Toronto area, and the public health advice of Ontario’s chief medical officer.

We will make every effort to transition staff back into our office and resume normal operations as soon as we are able.

 

What services will be provided by the IPC during this time?

What services will be provided by the IPC during this time?

Although most tribunal services have not been operating as usual, we are working to process incoming appeals and we continue to provide services to the public, public sector organizations, and the health and child and family services sectors. Members of the public who have filed appeals with our office should expect some delays.

We remain available to public organizations for consultation and discussions on access and privacy matters.

 

Will institutions be required to respond to requests for access to or correction of information during this time?

Will institutions be required to respond to requests for access to or correction of information during this time?

The expectation to comply with Ontario’s access laws remains in effect, and institutions should continue to process access requests. However, if you’ve made a request for general or personal information from a public-sector organization, you should expect delays. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, many public sector staff are working remotely and may not be in a position to search for the records you are asking for as quickly as they might otherwise do.

Given that these are exceptional circumstances, we understand that some organizations will be unable to meet the 30-day response requirement. As such, we will consider these circumstances when processing appeals relating to deemed refusals.

 

Do the statutory time limits for initiating complaints or appeals to the IPC continue to apply?

Do the statutory time limits for initiating complaints or appeals to the IPC continue to apply?

It’s important to note that the suspension order issued by the Ontario government under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act that ‘froze’ statutory time limits effective March 16, 2020 ends on September 14. This means that as of September 14, 2020, the time limits for initiating complaints or appeals to the IPC that are set out in Ontario’s access, health privacy, and child and family services laws will resume as normal.

 

What is the appeal deadline for decisions that were issued while the suspension order was in effect?

What is the appeal deadline for decisions that were issued while the suspension order was in effect?

The suspension order was lifted on September 14, which means that the clock started again for filing appeals and complaints on that day. Therefore, the appeal/complaint period for decisions issued by institutions during the period that the suspension order was in effect will begin to run on September 14, and end 30 days after that, namely, on October 13.

 

How should requests and appeals that relate to third party records be treated?

How should requests and appeals that relate to third party records be treated?

Under normal circumstances, the IPC notifies institutions when an affected third party submits an appeal. This is done to ensure that the records related to an affected third party are not disclosed to the requester before the issue of disclosure is settled or determined.

However, due to the physical closure of our office, and the related time delays in receiving and processing paper mail, institutions under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act should not assume that a third party has not filed an appeal. Before disclosing third party records, institutions should contact our office to determine whether a third party appeal has been filed.

 

What if my privacy is breached? Will the IPC be taking complaints?

What if my privacy is breached? Will the IPC be taking complaints?

Anyone with a complaint should submit it to the IPC using our online complaint forms. We are receiving complaints and will make every effort to respond to more urgent matters in a timely way.  We appreciate your patience during this difficult time.

 

Can I still reach the IPC to consult or ask questions about matters related to access and privacy at my organization?

Can I still reach the IPC to consult or ask questions about matters related to access and privacy at my organization?

Although we are not operating as quickly as usual, we remain available to public organizations, health information custodians, and child and family service providers for consultation and discussions about access and privacy matters during this time.

You may contact us by phone at 416-326-3333 or toll-free at 1-800-387-0073 and leave a message with your contact information. Someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

You can also reach us by emailing info@ipc.on.ca.

 

How will I comply with the requirement to report privacy breaches to the IPC?

How will I comply with the requirement to report privacy breaches to the IPC?

Institutions, health information custodians, and child and family service providers should continue to report breaches at their organizations using the online breach report form. Given the privacy risks that may be at stake, we will make every effort to prioritize and respond to urgent matters in a timely way.

 

How do I get in touch with an IPC staff member during the closure?

How do I get in touch with an IPC staff member during the closure?

If you know the name of the person you are trying to reach, you can contact them directly via their email address. IPC employees are able to receive work emails securely from home.

Otherwise, you can call us at 416-326-3333 or toll-free at 1-800-387-0073 and leave a message with your contact information. Someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

 

I am sending in an important piece of mail. Will it be received?

I am sending in an important piece of mail.  Will it be received?

Although the office is physically closed and we are not operating as per usual practice, we are working to process and scan incoming mail, so we can continue to provide services to the public, public sector organizations, and the health and child and family services sectors, while working securely from home. If the communication sent by mail is urgent, you may email us at info@ipc.on.ca to advise us in advance to expect your incoming mail and ask for confirmation of receipt.

Please avoid sending mail by courier as there is no one systemically at the IPC’s office to receive it. If you have an open file at the IPC and you need to send a piece of mail by courier, you MUST contact the IPC staff member you are dealing with for specific instructions on what to do.

 

 

How do I get in touch with the IPC during the closure?

How do I get in touch with the IPC during the closure?

If you know the name of the person you are trying to reach, you can contact them directly at their email address. IPC employees are able to receive work emails securely from home.

Otherwise, you can call us at 416-326-3333 or toll-free at 1-800-387-0073 and leave a message with your contact information. Someone will be back to you as soon as possible.

 

Can public health bodies, government organizations, and other facilities, such as long-term care homes, release information about numbers of infected individuals and deaths due to COVID-19? Does privacy prevent this kind of information from being disclosed to the public?

Can public health bodies, government organizations, and other facilities, such as long-term care homes, release information about numbers of infected individuals and deaths due to COVID-19?  Does privacy prevent this kind of information from being disclosed to the public?

Privacy does not prevent the release of data related to COVID-19 infections and deaths in Ontario.

Public health offices, long-term care facilities, hospitals, and other organizations can release non-identifying information, especially in situations where the information is related to incidences of infection, numbers of deaths, or other information that can help control spread of the virus and keep the public safe. This vital information should be shared with the public as soon as it is possible to do so.

Non-identifying information could include the numbers of affected individuals, demographic data such as gender and approximate age of affected individuals, as well as geographic locations of infected or deceased individuals, including long-term care facilities and workplaces, especially if they are in a location where large numbers of people might have gathered. However, public health bodies and governments should only share as much information as is necessary for public health purposes. They don’t need to name the individual.

People need to be told if they have been exposed to the virus so they can take steps to self-isolate or otherwise protect themselves and their families, as well as assess the public health response. In matters of public health, privacy is not a barrier to sharing information critical to public well-being.