FOI, FOIP and a little bit of ATIP
As a lawyer who frequently advises/represents individuals with matters that involve public bodies and with the increase in police violence (and discussions around accountability), one thing I felt to share is how to do an FOI/FOIP/ATIP request. This post shares how to do your own request. Nothing in this post contains legal advice; you should contact a lawyer to seek legal advice to your specific situation/matter.
An FOI is access to information about a person from provincial entities (the federal equivalent is ATIP). Usually, the access to information concerns your own self. While you may be able to request information for another person, you will need to complete additional steps, namely obtain their consent/authorization. These steps are for when you want to do your own request for your own self. All links listed below.
1) Figure out if the public body falls under the relevant legislation:
In both Ontario and Alberta, the legislation is called Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Ontario calls these legislative requests FOI requests. Alberta calls them FOIP requests.
Ontario has a directory of bodies that could do an FOI request. In Alberta, there is no directory but the body you wish to seek a FOIP request usually has that information on their website; you should check that entity’s website first.
Federally, they are called ATIP or access to information and privacy requests. There is a list of bodies that participate in the online ATIP application process.
2) Figure out what department has the information you are requesting:
For such requests, it is best to be specific as possible to ensure your search results are relevant to what you are looking for and that they return in a timely manner.
3) Figure out the scope of your information request:
In your request, you can name specific people who you dealt with or who you interacted with at the entity. You can also use time/date stamps to help direct the entity to ask the right people if you do not know who interacted with you. You can make a broad general request of a department too.
You can ask about any meeting notes that contain information or an opinion about your personal information; you can also ask for any documents that contain opinions about you. There may be limits (namely, legal privilege) on the scope of your request. Other documents you can likely request:
Visual images (photographs or videotapes)
Internal meeting notes
Records of discussions (think, notes following a phone call)
4) Figure out the timeline for the entity to respond to your request:
Once you submit your request, the entity has to acknowledge the request. Once it does so, that is usually the time that the clock starts ticking on the legislative deadlines. Those deadlines are 30 days from the date of the request typically. Mark that date as a follow-up, either shortly before or after.
5) Figure out costs and other matters:
You will have to file an application fee of $5.00 in Ontario; it is different pending on the request (general or personal information) in Alberta for the entities. Federally, if you are doing for access to personal information, it generally no cost.
The legislative goals for each federal and provincial legislation ensure that individuals receive personal information in an accessible manner. However, accessibility does not always translate to cheap; you may have to file an application with a cheque or attend a location to pay (except during COVID-19). You may not have access to a cheque; you can ask a friend to help if you can. There are extra costs sometimes for time spent by the entity searching or costs per copying/printing. It is good practice to request the documents digitally/electronically.