Timeframe for filing a complaint under The Access to Information Act

The Information Commissioner of Canada (OIC) investigates complaints from individuals and organizations who believe that federal institutions have not respected their rights under the Access to Information Act (the Act).

The timeframe for filing a complaint with the Information Commissioner that relates to a request for access to records is within 60 days after one of the following1:

  • The requester has received a notice that the institution has refused to grant access to the requested records
  • The requester has received all or part of the records, or
  • The requester becomes aware that other grounds for a complaint exist.

Determining the 60-day timeframe

Proper documentation is key to determining the 60-day time period. It is important that institutions appropriately document when the requester is informed or formally notified about the access request because communication with the requester may be the starting point for the 60-day time period.

Institutions are required to inform requesters of the prescribed timeframe within which they have the right to complain to the OIC.

Requesters are responsible for ensuring that a complaint to the OIC is done within the 60-day time period. 

In establishing whether a complaint is made within the 60-day time period, the OIC will take the following factors into consideration:

  • proof of receipt of the notice or the records by the requester
  • documentation on the institution’s file regarding confirmation of the delivery date of the notice of refusal or the records (If there is no confirmation of the delivery date, the OIC will add 10 days to the date of the notice sent by the institution to the requester)2
  • postmark on the envelope or transmission date of facsimile or other transmission dates on documents.

Other grounds to complain

The OIC will also consider a complaint from an individual on other grounds, for example, if the institution did not inform the requester of his/her right to complain to the OIC and the 60-day time period to complain has expired. In this case, the 60-day time period to complain will start from the date that the requester became aware of this issue or situation. The OIC will also consider a complaint where the institution has not provided any notice to the requester concerning his/her request.

When complaints are outside the 60-day timeframe

In most circumstances, the OIC will not accept complaints that are outside of the 60-day time period. In such a case, the OIC will inform the individual that the complaint is invalid.

Commissioner-Initiated Complaint

Where the timeframe to complain has expired, the OIC may consider initiating a complaint in exceptional circumstances3, for example:

  • if the matter deals with life, liberty or security of individuals
  • if the results are likely to have a significant impact on Canadians

(Refer to Practice Direction on Triage of Complaints http://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/eng/inv-inv_pd-dp_triage-complaints-plaintes.aspx)

  • other compelling reasons, such as a serious issue relating to an institution’s duty to assist a requester.  

1 Section 31 provides that "a complaint under this Act shall be made to the Information Commissioner in writing unless the Commissioner authorizes otherwise.  If the complaint relates to a request by a person for access to a record, it shall be made within sixty days after the day on which the person receives a notice of a refusal under section 7, is given access to all or part of the records or, in any other case, becomes aware that grounds for the complaint exist." Section 31 provides that "a complaint under this Act shall be made to the Information Commissioner in writing unless the Commissioner authorizes otherwise.  If the complaint relates to a request by a person for access to a record, it shall be made within sixty days after the day on which the person receives a notice of a refusal under section 7, is given access to all or part of the records or, in any other case, becomes aware that grounds for the complaint exist."

2 According to the Federal Court Rules, service of a document by ordinary mail is effective on the tenth day after it was mailed.

3 Subsection 30(3) of the Act provides that "where the Information Commissioner is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to investigate a matter relating to requesting or obtaining access to records under this Act, the Commissioner may initiate a complaint in respect thereof.

Last updated: February 5, 2010