Complaints and investigations

Under the Access to Information Act, anyone who makes a request for information to a federal institution and is dissatisfied with the response or the way it was handled has the right to complain to us.

We receive complaints in three broad categories.

Administrative complaints

  • Extensions: The institution extended the time it required to process the request.
  • Delays: The institution failed to provide access to the information within the time limit set out in the Act.
  • Fees: The fee the institution proposed to charge was unreasonable.
  • Miscellaneous complaints (e.g. that the institution did not provide the information in the requester’s official language of choice).

Refusal complaints

  • Exemptions: The institution withheld the records under specific provisions of the Act. For instance, the information relates to the safety of individuals, national security or commercial interests, or the records contain personal information or will be published within 90 days.
  • No records: The institution found no documents relevant to the request.
  • Incomplete response: The institution did not release all the records that matched the request.
  • Excluded information: The institution did not disclose information that is excluded from the Act, such as publications, or library or museum material.

Cabinet confidence exclusion complaints

  • Access to records refused: The institution did not disclose a document that contains a Cabinet confidence, which is excluded from the Act.

The Act requires that we investigate all the complaints we receive. Consequently, we have little control of our workload. Nonetheless, our investigations must be thorough, unbiased and conducted in private. Although there is no deadline in the law for when we must complete our investigations, we strive to carry them out as quickly as possible to help ensure requesters’ fundamental right to access to government information and to help ensure the overall health of the access to information system. This includes reviewing the records at issue, providing institutions the opportunity to make representations, seeking representations from the complainant and, when necessary, making formal recommendations to the heads of institutions before reporting the results of our investigations.

The Commissioner has broad investigative powers and a wide range of tools at her disposal to successfully resolve complaints, including mediation. In fact, it is through mediation that we successfully conclude 99 percent of our investigations. When informal methods of resolving a complaint fail and an institution does not follow our recommendations on disclosure of information, the Commissioner or the complainant may ask the Federal Court to review an institution’s decision to withhold information.