You have Rights to Access! Here’s how to do it.
Under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act, you are permitted to ask for access to any record, including your own personal information under the control of a public body. Each public body has a FOIP representative who is responsible for managing its access and privacy responsibilities. They can answer questions and arrange for access to a public body’s records.
Public Bodies include: Government of Alberta Departments, Municipalities, Metis Settlements, Drainage Districts, Housing Management Bodies, Irrigation Districts, School Jurisdictions, Post-Secondary Institutions, Public Libraries, Police Services (Not RCMP), Police Commissions, Health Care Bodies, some Agencies, Boards and Commissions.
Your access rights under the Health Information Act (HIA) reach as far as requesting your own health and/or demographic information stored by a health custodian.
Access rights under the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) are similar to those of the HIA, where you are limited to receiving your own personal information.
It is important for the applicant to check first if the information they are requesting access to is already part of an open or routine disclosure scenario. If you need to use Alberta’s access laws to obtain the information you are seeking, you will need to make a formal request as the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) has no authority to review a response of failure to respond to an informal request, which is a request made outside of the Act.
There is some information that organizations can refuse to provide, such as information collected for a legal proceeding or confidential commercial information. The Acts also have rules around the exclusion of records that are created by or for or in the custody or under the control of an officer of the legislature and related to the exercises of that officer’s functions.
Ie: The OIPC is subject the FOIP Act except for records that are excluded under Section 4(1)(d) and since the OIPC is an investigative body, you will find most requests are denied.
TO MAKE A FORMAL REQUEST
Each Act requires you to submit your access request directly to the public body, health custodian or organization that you believe has custody or control of the records you are seeking. While HIA accepts verbal requests, it is strongly recommended that you document all requests made by doing so in writing. It is also strongly recommended that you retain a copy of all access request packages sent under all of the Acts, as the OIPC may request a copy should a response review be required.
Each form comes with instructions as well as return address. Don’t forget, before you put the package in the mail to make a complete copy for yourself and never include original documentation as you will probably not get it back!
When you make your request, be sure to provide enough detail to enable the reader to identify to information/records you are requesting.
Insider tip: On your request form, state that the request is being made pursuant to the Act you are making your request under. This ensures that all parties are clear that a formal request is being made which allows the OIPC authority to review any response or failure to respond by the public body to your access request.
NO SURPRISE, THERE ARE FEES
There may be fees associated with your access request. General Information will cost you an application fee of $25.00. This fee is just to process your request. Once processed you will be sent an estimate cost of record retrieval which you can then decide to pay, or narrow the scope. The FOIP Coordinator has a duty to help you do this part under the legislation, so it’s okay to call the contact provided to you with questions on their fee schedule and search scope changes.
Insider tip: You can ask to waive these fees on the request form. If your request to waive the fees is denied, you can ask the OIPC to review that decision. Remember, this will take some time!
Public Bodies and Custodians have 30 days to respond to your request (FOIP & HIA). Organizations have 45 days to respond to your request. You can expect with a complicated access request, that the public body will ask the OIPC for an extended timeline to fulfil your request. This decision as well as the failure to meet timeline dates, opens the door again for an OIPC review.
MAKING A COMPLAINT
Should the Organization, Custodian, or Business fail or refuse to provide you with your information, does not respond within 30-45 days (unless time extension was granted), or you feel an offense has occurred, you may file a complaint to the OIPC. You can read more about this process here.