You’ve probably heard about the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, RSO 1990, c F. 31, often called “FIPPA,” in Ontario. However, few know the ins and outs of FIPPA – what it is, what it does, and what it covers.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about FIPPA, including the types of records subject to FIPPA and how the public can make FIPPA requests.
What is FIPPA?
FIPPA governs how Ontario’s public bodies – like hospitals, educational institutions, and police services – handle Ontarians’ personal information and public records.
What Does FIPPA Do?
The primary purpose of FIPPA is two-fold.
First, FIPPA provides a general right of access to government information, guided by the principles that information should be available to the public, exemptions to the access of information should both specific and limited, and the government should not make its own decisions regarding whether government information should be disclosed.
Second, FIPPA protects individuals’ privacy rights regarding personal information held by institutions and provides those individuals with a right to access their personal information.
What Information Does FIPPA Cover?
FIPPA covers two types of information: personal information and public records.
“Personal information” is defined broadly in FIPPA. Generally speaking, it refers to identifying information relating to the individual (ranging from race or ethnic origin to marital status to contact information), education, medical, criminal, or employment records, and views or opinions of another individual about the individual in question.
Public “records” are defined as any record of information, whether printed, filmed, or stored electronically.
FIPPA and Other Relevant Legislation
Remember that FIPPA does not provide carte blanche access to all government documents. FIPPA is complex legislation with many exceptions and limitations on what can and cannot be disclosed through a FIPPA request.
Depending on the type of information you are requesting, you may also need to follow different processes. For example:
- If you are requesting access to your personal health information, you will follow the process outlined in the Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004, SO 2004, c 3, Sch A.
- If you are requesting information or records from a municipality, you will follow the process outlined in the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, RSO 1990, c M. 56.
Below, we will provide further information regarding FIPPA requests in Ontario. If you have questions relating to access through FIPPA, or access to other types of government records not covered by FIPPA, consult with an experienced lawyer for guidance.
Making a FIPPA Request in Ontario
Making a FIPPA request can be complicated – especially when you aren’t familiar with your rights or the steps involved. Below, we’ve provided a bird’s eye view of the FIPPA request process. The information below is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be relied on when submitting a FIPPA request.
Keep in mind that some commonly-requested types of information do not require an FOI request. For more information on frequently requested information (including police reports, court records, and licences), review the Government of Ontario’s guide on Frequently Requested Information.
Types of Documents Subject to FIPPA
As noted above, FIPPA in Ontario applies to specific types of government documents. Under FIPPA, you can submit a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for access to the following:
- General records held by government institutions (e.g., Ontario government ministries, colleges and universities, and other public agencies)
- Your personal information
- Another person’s personal information (if you have the appropriate consent from the individual)
Identifying the Records or Information for Your FIPPA Request
Before submitting an FOI request, you must identify the records in question. Keep in mind that records sought need to be described in sufficient detail – FIPPA requires the description to provide enough detail for “an experienced employee of the institution, upon a reasonable effort, to identify the record” (FIPPA, 24(2)). If your request does not contain sufficient detail regarding the records sought, the institution handling your request will reject it.
For further information on the types of records you can obtain from provincial ministries, consult the Government of Ontario’s Directory of Records. This resource describes the types of information you can request from provincial ministries and agencies.
Identifying the Handling Institution for Your FIPPA Request
Once you’ve identified the records you seek, you’ll need to determine which institution will handle your FOI request. As mentioned above, different types of information require different requests (for example, if you are requesting information from a municipality).
For further information on the government bodies covered by FIPPA, see the Government of Ontario’s Directory of Institutions.
Preparing Your FOI Request
You can submit an FOI request online or by mail using the prescribed forms. When submitting an FOI request, you will also need to pay a $5.00 application fee (correcting your personal information is free). Depending on the nature of your request, you may need to pay additional fees after the institution has reviewed your FOI request.
Waiting Time for FOI Requests
Under FIPPA, institutions typically have 30 calendar days to process FOI requests once they are received. However, as of 2023, the Government of Ontario reports that they may not be able to respond to FOI requests within 30 calendar days due to limited capacity.
Appealing an FOI Decision
If the institution rejects your FOI request – in whole or in part – you have the right to appeal their decision. Appeals can be filed with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario within 30 calendar days of the notice of rejection. You’ll pay a fee of $10.00 when appealing a decision related to access (or correction) of your personal information and $25.00 when appealing a decision related to access to general records.
Final Thoughts on FIPPA in Ontario
While the process of submitting an FOI request under FIPPA is fairly straightforward, determining what records you need to request and whom you need to request them from can become complicated – to say nothing of the appeals process. Whether you’re attempting to obtain or correct your personal information or access government records and require assistance with a request or appeal, it’s best to speak with an experienced lawyer for guidance. They will help you understand your rights and, if necessary, guide you through the administrative appeals process.
Contact the Administrative Law Lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP in Ottawa
If you are required to appear or are considering bringing an application before an administrative tribunal, the experienced lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP can assist you. We are a large team with a diverse array of experience in multiple areas of the law to assist our clients with a variety of public law needs. Call us at 1-888-799-8057 or contact us online to discuss your matter with an experienced lawyer.