Asking tough questions of the government is easy for some curious citizens, but answers can be hard to come by. Just ask Don Rennick, a citizen of North Bay City, ONT. He recently received an email from his city’s CAO, telling him to FOIP himself and that generally speaking, city staff would no longer be responding to his emails unless they are received formally. Unfortunately Rennick is not alone. See Rennick’s story here and FOIP City of Edmonton story link
‘A FOIP request must be made in writing. You may either complete a request form or write a letter to the public body indicating that you are making the request under the FOIP Act.
Copies of a request form are available from government and local public body offices and from public libraries. Alternatively, you can print the Request to Access Information form (pdf) that is provided on the FOIP website. Detailed instructions on how to complete the form are provided with the form.
Frequently Asked Questions – How Do I Make a FOIP Request?
Whether you are writing a letter or completing a request form, you will need to:
- Provide your name, address, and a telephone number where you can be contacted if there are any questions about the request.
Be as specific as possible when describing the records you want to access.
- If you are requesting your own personal information, be sure to provide your full
name and any other names that you have used in the past.
- If the request is for general information (not your own personal information), include the $25 initial fee. This fee must be paid before the request will be processed.
- Sign and date the request form or letter.
- Send the completed request form or letter to the FOIP Coordinator of the public body
most likely to have the information.’
You can only FOIP documents that exist as a record. For example, you can request from your local municipality the “Lawn Maintenance Records from May 1, 2015 to May 1, 2020 of Memorial PL Park Located in the community of Pretty Lake, AB”. You can not request “The number of times the lawn was cut from May 1, 2015 to May 1, 2020…” as this would be a summary or generated report that may not be a record.
Trivial, Frivolous or Vexatious?
Have you received a letter with these words? Trivial, Frivolous and/or Vexatious. Curious people align to ask, Is what information I am seeking really trivial? Does my request really lack merit? Am I actually harassing you with my interest?
- “trivial” means trifling; inconsiderable; of small worth or importance. Trivial does not require an assessment of reasonableness of the matter.
- “frivolous” means lacking a legal basis or legal merit; a matter that has little prospect of success; not serious, not reasonably purposeful;
- “vexatious” means without reasonable or probable cause or excuse; harassing; annoying; instituted maliciously or on the basis of improper motives; intended to harass or annoy.
Keep on FOIPing
Access to information under the custody or control of a public body is important to democracy. Don’t be discouraged by the forms, the fees or the time it takes to get a response. Pay it, fill it out, and wait. Keep asking questions, be curious, and remember that there is a section in privacy legislation dedicated to the insurance that requestors of information receive reasonable efforts of assistance by the public bodies throughout the process. (Section 10 FOIP Act)
Insider Tip: Make one FOIP request at a time so that you are not labelled a ‘special applicant’ as the special treatment you receive is generally a longer wait time.