How we can help

If you submitted a request for information to a federal government institution under the Access to Information Act and you are not satisfied with how the institution processed it, you may complain to the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC).

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Office of the information Commissioner
30 Victoria Street, 7th Floor
Gatineau QC K1A 1H3

819-994-1768

greffe-registry@oic-ci.gc.ca

What we do...

  • Investigate complaints from requesters who believe federal institutions did not respect their rights under the Access to Information Act
  • Help resolve disagreements between requesters and institutions
  • Help ensure the Access to Information Act is respected
  • Participate in litigation related to the Access to Information Act 
  • Encourage federal institutions to make information more easily available to the public to keep the federal government accountable to Canadians
  • Promote awareness of the importance of open and transparent government

What we don’t do...

  • Release records that are the subject of a complaint
  • Hold records on behalf of the Government of Canada or any other party
  • Impose penalties such as fines on institutions for non-compliance
  • Award damages to complainants
  • Investigate complaints of matters not covered by the Access to Information Act

Types of complaints

Administrative complaints
  • What can you complain about?
  • Explanation
  • During the investigation

You have not received a response to a request you submitted more than 30 days ago. This is a delay (or deemed refusal) complaint.

Institutions have 30 days to respond to requests (e.g. provide access to the records). Institutions that do not respond within 30 days are deemed to have refused to provide access to the requested records.

The OIC asks the institution whether it responded to your request within 30 days. If it did not, and still has not responded, the OIC asks for a reasonable response date.

You disagree with the institution’s decision to extend the 30-day response period. This is a time extension complaint.

Within the first 30 days after receiving requests, institutions may extend their deadline to respond. They must tell requesters that they are taking this time extension.

The OIC asks the institution to justify the time extension and then decides whether it was warranted under the circumstances. When the institution cannot justify the length of the extension, the OIC asks for an earlier reasonable response date.

Refusal complaints
  • What can you complain about?
  • Explanation
  • During the investigation

The institution responded that no records exist, you received an incomplete response. This is a reasonable search complaint.

Institutions may determine, after searching for records, that they do not have any records that fall within the scope of the request or do not have any more records beyond those they retrieved. Note: Institutions do not have to create new records to respond to requests.

The OIC asks you to explain why you believe that more records must exist and/or provide evidence that they do. The OIC asks the institution for a detailed explanation of its search. The OIC investigates whether all the relevant program areas asked to find responsive records, and reviews the institution's records management practices and retention schedule to determine whether the search was reasonable.

In its response to you, the institution neither confirmed nor denied that the information you requested exists. This is a subsection 10(2) complaint.  

When refusing access to records using this subsection, institutions do not have to indicate whether the records exist. However, they must note provisions under which they would otherwise refuse access (as paragraph 10(1)(b) requires). 

The OIC asks the institution to provide evidence about how it applied both subsection 10(2) and the exemptions under which it would otherwise refuse access in order to determine whether they were properly applied. 

The institution has, in your view, incorrectly applied an exemption (found in sections 13 to 24 and/or section 26 of the Access to Information Act) to refuse access to all or part of the information you requested. This is an exemption complaint.

Exemptions allow institutions to withhold records when the meet certain requirements. Institutions must indicate the specific exemptions they are using to withhold information in their response and on any records they provide.

The OIC asks the institution to explain how the exemptions apply to the record. The OIC relies on the Access to Information Act and legal precedents to determine whether the exemptions were properly applied.

Exclusion complaints
  • What can you complain about?
  • Explanation
  • During the investigation

You do not agree with the institution that the records you requested are not covered by the Access to Information Act. This is an exclusion complaint.

Sections 68 to 69.1 list the kinds of information that are not covered by (are excluded from) the Act. In their responses to requesters, institutions indicate the exclusion(s) they are using to withhold the information. When institutions have excluded information as Cabinet confidences, they must consult with the Department of Justice Canada and, in some cases, the Privy Council Office. 

The OIC asks the institution to demonstrate that the exclusion applies to the records. The OIC relies on the Access to Information Act and legal precedent to determine whether the exclusion applies and whether the record is excluded from the Act. The OIC may not view records containing Cabinet confidences, but does receive a description of the records and confirmation that any necessary consultations took place in order to determine whether the institution applied the exclusion properly.

Duty-to-assist complaints
  • What can you complain about?
  • Explanation
  • During the investigation

The government institution did not make a reasonable effort to help you with your request, as required by subsection 4(2.1) of the Access to Information Act. This is a duty-to-assist complaint.

Subsection 4(2.1) sets out the duty of institutions to make reasonable efforts to help requesters with their requests, to respond accurately and completely, and to provide timely access to records in the format requested.

The OIC reviews the allegations and determines a course of action based on the content and details of the complaint.

Miscellaneous complaints
  • What can you complain about?
  • Explanation
  • During the investigation

You are concerned about any other matter related to requesting or obtaining access to records under the Access to Information Act. For instance, you disagree with the format or language in which the institution provided the records. This is a miscellaneous complaint.

Institutions may grant access in several ways, such as giving requesters paper or electronic copies of the records, inviting requesters to examine the records in person or providing a transcript. Institutions must provide access in the requested language, when the records already exist in that language.

The OIC reviews the allegations and determines a course of action based on the content and details of the complaint.

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