General Information Overview
Freedom of information (“FOI”) is the freedom to publish and consume information. In Canada, you have a legal right to request any records containing your personal information held by public or private bodies, as well as general information from a public body. You can exercise your rights by either filing a freedom of information (“FOI”) request or an access to information and privacy (“ATIP”) request. In general, FOI is the relevant term used when making a request to a provincial public body or a private sector organization, while ATIP is the relevant term used when requesting information from the federal government.
An FOI or ATIP request must be made through a form or in writing and is typically filed online. Once you have filed a request, organizations are generally obligated to assist you and respond to your request within 30 days.
General Information Requests
The Access to Information Act (“ATIA”) gives Canadian citizens and permanent residents a right of access to general information held by federal bodies. The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“BC FIPPA”) gives BC residents a right to access general information held by provincial public bodies.
Examples of requestable non-personal records:
- Briefing notes and memoranda
- Executive summaries
- Background papers and reports
- Slideshow presentation decks
- Photographs, videos, diagrams, and maps
- Incident reports
- Media lines, Q&As, and other communication products
- Emails and text messages
- Budgets, receipts, and other financial documents
- Meeting agendas, minutes, and handouts
Examples of non-personal records that you cannot request as per section 3(3) of BC FIPPA:
- a court record;
- a record of
- (i)a judge of the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court or Provincial Court,
- (ii)a master of the Supreme Court, or
- (iii)a justice of the peace;
- a judicial administration record;
- a record relating to support services provided to a judge of a court referred to in paragraph (b)(I);
- a personal note, communication or draft decision of a person who is acting in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity;
- a record that is created by or for, or is in the custody or under the control of, an officer of the Legislature and that relates to the exercise of functions under an Act;
- a record that was created by or for the auditor general under the Auditor General for Local Government Act and that relates to the exercise of functions under that Act;
- a record of a question or answer to be used on an examination or test;
- a record containing teaching or research materials of
- (i)a faculty member, as defined in the College and Institute Act and the University Act, of a post-secondary educational body,
- (ii)a teaching assistant or research assistant employed at a post-secondary educational body, or
- (iii)another person teaching or carrying out research at a post-secondary educational body;
- a record placed in the archives of a public body, or the digital archives or museum archives of government, by or for a person or agency other than a public body;
- a record relating to a prosecution if not all proceedings in respect of the prosecution have been completed;
- a record of a service provider that is not related to the provision of services for a public body.
How are Freedom of Information (“FOI”) and Access to Information and Privacy (“ATIP”) requests typically filed?
Freedom of information (“FOI”) and access to information and privacy (“ATIP”) requests are most commonly sent online with some limited alternatives. Listed below are the relevant links for filing an FOI or ATIP request online.
If online request services are unavailable to you, as is the case with requesting your personal information from private organizations, you may email your request. These forms may assist you in writing an effective FOI or ATIP request over email.
In addition, FOI or ATIP requests may also be sent as letters in the mail. Please see the following for either:
- An example letter for federal requests; or (to be uploaded soon)
- An example letter for provincial requests (to be uploaded soon)
Before you make a request, please do preliminary research to verify if the information is already available. If not, perform a scan to find out if the information you want is held by the Federal or Provincial government, other public bodies covered by the legislation, or a private organization (i.e., a non-profit corporation).
Please see our Planning My Request Strategy page for more pre-request information.
Please see the following links for instructions on filing requests under each category.
- If you would like to request personal or general (non-personal) information from the BC government, please see Requesting Your Personal Information or General Information from BC Provincial Public Bodies
- If you would like to request personal information from a BC private sector organization, please see Requesting Your Personal Information from a BC Private Sector Organization
- If you would like to request personal information from the federal government, please see Requesting Your Personal Information from a Federal Body
- If you would like to request non-personal and general information from the federal government, please see Requesting General Information from a Federal Body
- If you would like health privacy information or want to request your personal health information, please see Your Health Information.
These pages were last updated and reviewed in August of 2022.
The information on these pages only contains general information and guidance; none of the information constitutes legal advice. If you have a specific issue that you believe is a legal problem, the best practice is to consult a lawyer.
The information is non-partisan, dynamic and ever changing. It is the result of FIPA’s research and public education programs.
If you note something that needs to be added, corrected, or removed, please contact us by email: fipa AT fipa.bc.ca.