Access & Privacy
What to expect when submitting an FOI, what individual rights to privacy include, why open and transparent practices are important to building public trust.
The Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (LA FOIP) promotes both the openness and transparency of local authorities (such as municipal governments, police, public libraries) as well as the protection of an individual’s privacy.
It outlines the public’s right to access records held by a local authority as well as the public’s right to privacy with respect to personal information held by the local authority. This legislation is really “two Acts in one”:
The Act enables any person to apply for access to records containing information in the custody and control of local authorities.
The Act establishes rules for how the local authorities collect and use personal and third-party information.
With the delegated authority of “Head” under LA FOIP, the City Clerk is responsible for ensuring that the local authority is fulfilling their statutory duties under the Act.
Right to Access Records
LA FOIP enables any person to apply for access to records held by a local authority. If the information can’t be routinely disclosed, an individual may file an Access to Information Request (also known as a Freedom of Information, or FOI, Request). Local authorities have a duty to assist, which requires them to respond openly, accurately and completely, and to make every reasonable effort to assist without delay.
Access to Information Requests (ATIRs) in 7 Steps:
Complete and submit the appropriate ATIR form, including as much clear detail on the records you are requesting as possible.
The section of the request form concerning “time period” refers to the time period the records fall into, not the time period in which you wish the request to be completed.
The “Requesting waiver of processing fee” box applies to additional processing fees that may be required for larger requests and not to the application fee. The application fee may only be waived if an individual is requesting their own personal information as defined by the Act.
Pay the $20 application fee.
The method of payment will depend on the local authority you are applying to.
Your request will be reviewed. If clarification is required to identify the records you are requesting, you will be notified.
There are time frames for responding to requesters. This is commonly referred to as the “clock.” The clock starts once the request form, the application fee, and any necessary clarifications are received.
If additional processing fees apply, you will be asked to pay half of the processing fee estimate before the request proceeds.
Dependent on the local authority, any applicable standard fee waivers will be applied.
If you requested a fee waiver on the request form, it will be assessed, and you will be asked to provide any relevant documentation.
In most cases, the request will be completed within 30 days.
Within 30 days you will hear back from the City Clerk, either: providing the requested information; advising that the information will not be released and for what reason; or advising that due to extenuating circumstances, it will take a further period of time, not to exceed an additional 30 days, to respond to the request.
If processing fees applied, you will be asked to pay the remainder before records are released to you.
If fees end up exceeding the estimate, you will not be charged the additional fees. If fees end up less than the estimate, you will receive a refund of the difference if the amount you paid exceeds the actual cost..
Records are processed and released to you.
Records may have redactions applied to protect certain information. This is done according to the Act, which provides for the protection of information through exemptions from disclosure.
The Act’s broad provisions for disclosure, coupled with specific exemptions, prescribe the “balance” struck between the right to privacy and the right of the public to access.
5 Things to Know About Access to Information Requests (ATIRs):
The ATIR process is meant to provide records, not answer questions.
Many questions, as well as routine records, can be answered or provided by contacting the relevant business areas of the local authority directly. Consider checking with the applicable municipality before submitting an ATIR.
Record is defined as “a record of information in any form and includes information that is written, photographed, recorded, or stored in any manner, but does not include computer programs or other mechanisms that produce records.”
Local authorities are not obligated to create records which do not exist in response to a request. The Act does exempt certain types of records from the application for access. For example, records that contain personal information about another individual, closed meetings of Council and solicitor/client privileged are not accessible.
Any records in the possession or under the control of a local authority are applicable to an ATIR.
This may include records created by third parties (third party is defined as “a person, including an unincorporated entity, other than an applicant or a local authority”). Third parties are notified if their records fall under an ATIR and the local authority intends to release them, which may result in an extension to the response period.
Note that records such as Council minutes, Committee minutes, bylaws, etc. will continue to be available to the public through the City Clerk’s Office without the need to go through the ATIR process.
The response period clock stops when waiting for a response from you, either for clarification or for a relevant payment to be received.
You may be asked to give further details regarding the information you are requesting to assist in retrieving the records.
If you disagree with the response you receive, you have the right to request a review by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) by submitting a Request for Review Form.
Disagreements may include but are not limited to: the decision by the local authority to not grant a fee waiver; the decision of the local authority to refuse access to all or part of a record; the decision of the local authority to extend the 30-day response period.
Right to Privacy
LA FOIP provides individuals with the right to privacy of their personal information held by local authorities. This includes restrictions on the collection, use and/or disclosure of the individual's personal information. A local authority has a duty to protect the integrity, accuracy, and confidentiality of the personal information in its possession or under its control.
Employees of local authorities are responsible for upholding privacy and for safeguarding the confidential and personal information under their care.
If an individual feels that their information has been mishandled or breached, they can submit a privacy complaint to the relevant local authority. If unsatisfied with the response, they can make a complaint to the IPC.
Personal information is defined as “recorded information about an identifiable individual” and includes details such as your name, address, phone number, SIN, race, driver’s license number, health card number, credit ratings, and opinions of another person about you.