Reasonable Search: What FOI Requesters Can Do to Support the Search for Records

May 11 2017

Ontarians’ right of access to information held by their government forms an essential cornerstone of both the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and its municipal counterpart, MFIPPA. These laws require institutions to conduct a reasonable search for responsive records when they receive a freedom of information (FOI) request.

As an FOI requester, you can help an institution find records in a number of ways.

  • You can ensure that the scope of your request is clearly defined and includes specific details about the records you are requesting. An institution may ask you to narrow a broadly worded request.
  • In some cases, you may have information that will help the institution to focus its search and ensure that the right records are located. You should share this information with the institution’s designated freedom of information coordinator.
  • An institution may also ask you to clarify your request. By working together, both you and the institution can better understand and locate the requested records.

You have the right to file an appeal with the IPC if you are not satisfied with an institution’s search. If you appeal an institution’s decision that “no records exist,” you must tell the IPC why you think the records you requested exist. Our office may review an institution’s search to determine if it was reasonable. If we decide that the search was not reasonable, the IPC can order the institution to conduct a further search.

Please see our Reasonable Search fact sheet for more information about an institution’s reasonable search obligations under FIPPA and MFIPPA, and how requesters can support their search efforts.

The IPC is committed to helping institutions achieve greater levels of public engagement and openness with the people they serve.

Please contact us if you have any questions about this blog.