Frequently Asked Questions
When can I make a complaint?
If you submitted a request for information to a federal institution under the Access to Information Act and you are not satisfied with how the institution has processed it, you may complain to the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC).
You must file a complaint within 60 days after one of the following:
- the institution has refused to grant access to the requested records;
- you received some or all of the records you requested; or
- you become aware of other grounds for a complaint exist.
Types of Complaints
How do I make a complaint?
By mail, fax or email:
Print and complete the form found here.
Send your complaint here:Office of the information Commissioner
30 Victoria Street, 7th Floor
Gatineau QC K1A 1H3
When will the investigation be complete?
Some complaints can be easily resolved, while others may require an extensive investment of time and resources. In all cases, the OIC investigates complaints as quickly as possible.
Every case is different, so it is difficult to predict exactly how long an investigation will take. However, the investigators generally aims to complete investigations into administrative complaints within 90 days and refusal complaints with nine months.
The following factors can affect how long an investigation will take:
- the number of records to be reviewed;
- the complexity of a case, or the number of issues to be investigated;
- the level of cooperation or ease of communication with institutions, complainants and other concerned parties;
- the availability of witnesses and documentary evidence;
- the completeness and quality of the information institutions, complainants and other parties have provided; and/or
- legal issues.
What is my role as a complainant?
Before filing a complaint, you may wish to try to resolve the matter with the help of the Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Coordinator of the relevant institution.
When you submit your complaint, ensure that the wording is clear, concise and complete and that you have included all relevant details and attached any related documents. For example, for refusal and time extension complaints, include a copy of the letter you received from the institution in response to your request.
You may provide any other details you think is relevant to the investigation. Please do not send additional information that is not directly relevant to the complaint.
During the complaint process, the OIC may ask you to further clarify the issues in your complaint. Your organized and timely response to these request, along with your cooperation with the investigator throughout the process, will help the OIC complete the investigation faster.
You may provide any other details you think is relevant to the investigation. Please do not send additional information, not directly relevant to the complaint.
What is the institution's role in the complaint process?
Institutions must justify the decisions they made when they responded to requests that are the subject of complaints.
The institution must provide the following to the OIC upon request:
- a clear description of the relevant facts and circumstances of the processing of request;
- copies of any documentation relevant to the matter under investigation, including any correspondence between institutions and complainants, and relevant institutional policies or procedures;
- a clear statement of their position on the complaint, through representations that have received proper consideration and consultation at the appropriate level within the institution; and
- the specifics of any action taken to date, or planned to be taken, to address the subject matter of the complaint.
Early investment of effort and cooperation by institutions in responding to complaints will facilitate investigations.
What are representations?
When the OIC carries out investigations, it gives complainants, institutions and other connected parties a reasonable opportunity to provide the position on the matter.
These representations, as they are known, outline why they think the Commissioner should resolve or conclude the matter in a certain way. For example, when an institution applied exemptions to withhold the record, their representations would explain why they applied the exemptions. The complainant’s representations might provide reasons why the exemption does not apply.
It is up to institutions to show that exemptions apply; therefore, they must provide reasons and evidence that they do.
What is the difference between an exemption and an exclusion?
Exemptions: Institutions use exemption withhold information. Exemptions are found at section 13 through 24 and section 26 of the Access to Information Act.
Exclusions: The Act does not apply to certain records, including published material or material available for purchase by the public, and Cabinet confidences.
What is the difference between a mandatory exemption and a discretionary exemption?
The Access to Information Act contains both exemptions that institutions must apply and those that they may choose to apply in certain circumstances.
Mandatory exemptions include section 13 (information obtained in confidence), section 19 (personal information) and section 20 (third-party information). Some contain exceptions but otherwise if the information meets the requirements of the exemption, institutions must use it.
Discretionary exemptions require institutions to consider whether or not to release the information. Discretionary exemptions include section 18 (economic interests of Canada), section 16 (law enforcement and investigations) and section 21 (advice and recommendations). If the information meets the requirements of the exemption and it is shown that they weighed the relevant factors for and against disclosure before refusing to disclose the information, they may do so.
Guidance on how the OIC interprets the exercise of discretion
What is the difference between a class-based exemption and an injury-based exemption?
The requirements of the various exemptions fall into two categories:
Class-based exemptions apply when the information is the type (of class) of information described in the exemption. In addition, the exemption does not note any consequence that might result from the information being released. Examples of class-based exemptions include section 23 (solicitor-client privilege) and section 24 (statutory prohibitions against disclosure).
Injury-based exemptions require institutions to show that some harm would occur if the information were disclosed. Examples of injury-based exemptions include section 16 (law enforcement and investigations) and section 18 (economic interests of Canada).
Is there a limit to the number of complaints I may submit?
No. However, the OIC may not be able to give equal priority to all of your complaints. The OIC will decide on a suitable approach for managing the files while respecting your rights under the Act. In particular, the OIC will work with you to prioritize complaints.
On occasion, the OIC may defer investigating new complaints submitted by the same complainant until existing complaints are completed. This enables the OIC to ensure fair distribution of resources among all complainants.
What if my complaint is against the OIC?
You may submit complaints about the OIC’s handling of your access request to the Information Commissioner Ad Hoc.