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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.
One common reason for complaints is the time it takes an
institution to respond to a request. Federal institutions have
30 days to do so but they may extend that time for a limited
number of reasons—for example, when they have to search
a large number of records, consult other institutions or notify
third parties—and they must notify requesters of these
extensions within the initial 30 days. Requesters may file
complaints about this notice, about the length of extensions
or because they feel, generally, that the process is taking
We receive complaints that fall into three broad categories:
— 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
— Miscellaneous complaints, including the following:
Access to records: The institution did not give the
requester an opportunity to examine the information.
Official language of choice: The institution did not
provide the information in the requester’s official
language of choice.
Alternative format: The institution did not provide the
information in an alternative format that a person with
a sensory disability could use.
Other matters: This includes complaints about any
other matter relating to requesting or obtaining access
to records under the Act.
— Exemptions: The institution withheld the records under
specific provisions of the Act. For instance, the information
was obtained in confidence from foreign governments; the
information relates to the safety of individuals, national
security or commercial interests; the records contain
personal information; or the information will be published
within the next 90 days.
— No records: The institution found no documents relevant
to the request.
— Incomplete response: The institution did not provide all
the information it was required to release that matched
— Excluded information: The institution did not disclose
information that is excluded from the Act, such as
publications, or library or museum material.
Information related to the Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation’s (CBC) journalistic, creative or programming
activities is also excluded. Information held by
Atomic Energy of Canada Limited is excluded, except
for information about its general administration and
the operation of any nuclear facility.
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 and that those investigations 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.
The Commissioner has strong investigative powers. However,
there are few incentives for institutions to comply with the
Act, and only limited consequences for their not doing so. The
Commissioner may not order a complaint to be resolved in a
particular way, relying instead on persuasion to settle disputes
or asking the Federal Court of Canada to review the case,
when an institution does not follow a recommendation on
disclosure of information.
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