Before you file a freedom of information (“FOI”) request, you should always do preliminary research for two reasons. First, preliminary research can help you identify whether the records you are looking for have already been proactively released. Second, preliminary research may help you learn about the types of records that are available and what effective request phrasing looks like, thus improving your requests in the future.
When FOI requests are made for general information, past successful results will usually be published and accessible. Published FOI requests can be useful as they will either be the records you’re looking for or they can show you examples of successful requests. However, FOI requests for personal information will not be published in the same way. If you cannot find any FOI requests published from the organization, please contact the organization’s FOI coordinator. Overall, it is helpful to search the relevant organization’s website to see if the records have already been published.
Your Personal/General Information Rights and BC Provincial Public Bodies
Under British Columbia’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“BC FIPPA”), you have the legal right to request your personal information or general information from any public body such as the British Columbia Government’s Ministries, local governments, municipal police forces, and crown corporations.
Key considerations before you file a request for your personal information held by a provincial public body:
If you are unsuccessful in finding the information after a thorough search, then filing an FOI request may be the best step. However, it is best practice to exhaust every resource before filing an FOI as it is often a resource intensive process for both the applicant and public body. Specifically for the applicant, FOI requests will often be the slowest process to receive information in addition to the possibility of being charged a fee.
Unsure who to address your request to?
If you are unsure who to address your request to, you can ask the BC Government’s Service BC Call Centre for contact information of a dedicated access and privacy contact within public bodies. You can also use the BC Personal Information Directory (PID), which is a resource designed to assist requesters find the location of their personal information.
BC Government FOI Online Resources
Please see the BC government’s resources on both:
Both pages contain most, if not all, the information you will need to submit an FOI request to FIPPA governed bodies.
In addition, please see the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC’s FOI request information page for FIPPA governed bodies as well as its FIPPA guide.
To request personal information from a BC Government Ministry, use either the online request system or fill out the BC government’s Request for Access to Personal Information form and follow these steps:
STEP 1: Determine which government ministry or body is most likely to hold your personal information.
STEP 2: Provide your full legal name, other names you use or have used, mailing address, phone number, date of birth, and any identifying number specifically related to your request.
STEP 3: Clearly describe the personal records you are looking for. If applicable, name the program or service you are seeking information from.
STEP 4: List a specific date range for the records you want.
STEP 5: Email, fax, or mail your letter or Request for Access to Personal Information form to:
Other FOI Request Considerations
Always check if organizations like local governments, municipal police forces, or crown corporations have their own FOI forms that you can use. For example, you can submit an FOI request directly to the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) through the VPD FOI form.
Alternatively, you may write a letter to that organization’s privacy officer that includes the following:
Still unsure how to make the request?
Under section 6 of BC FIPPA, public bodies must assist you with your information requests and make reasonable effort to respond openly, accurately, and without delay. Sometimes a public body may contact you to narrow down the type of records you are looking for or to clarify your request.
Alternatively, you may email the BC Government at FOI.Requests@gov.bc.ca, or send a written request by mail to:
Address written requests to the Manager of Information and Privacy responsible to a public body or organization in the private sector.
It is crucial for you as an applicant to keep track of ALL correspondence, deadlines, and follow-ups. Organizations must adhere to the rules set out in the applicable legislation and you have the right to keep them accountable. Similarly, you may challenge public bodies in your correspondence such as making requests for clarifications, explanations for extensions, and any concerns regarding fee assessments.
If either you or the organization requests modifications to the release, you should not rush those decisions. Always collaborate, ask questions, and seek advice not only from the organization you are requesting from but from other resources as well.
If there is a delay or an extension to the records, you have the right to ask for an interim release of records that have already been processed.
Under section 7 of BC FIPPA, a provincial public body generally has 30 business days to respond to a request. In some cases, the deadline may be extended but the public body must provide you with the reason and notify you as per section 10 of BC FIPPA. For example, the timeline may be extended by another 30 days if a request is seen to:
Typically requests for non-personal or general information takes longer than requests for your own personal information, while requests by political parties, media, and interest groups take the longest. In addition, requesting access to controversial or sensitive information may warrant an extension to the 30-day period.
If a second extension that goes beyond 60 business days is requested, you are not required to agree. If you decline this extension, the public body must present their case for the extension to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia, who will either deny the extension or grant an additional 30 business days.
Public bodies must ensure the personal information they hold is accurate. If you believe there is an error or omission in your information, all your rights regarding corrections stem from section 29 of BC FIPPA.
The public body must notify you if they corrected the information or provide reasons for not correcting it.
If the public body decides that changing the information is not appropriate, it must still note your request for change in the record. If you ask for a correction to an opinion, the public body typically won’t make the change but will note your disagreement with the opinion in the record. If the error is factual and sufficient proof is provided, the public body must make the correction.
If the public body has shared your newly corrected information to other organizations within the past year, they must tell them about the correction or the correction request.
As per section 8 of BC FIPPA, if the head of the public body refuses to fulfill parts or your entire request, they must tell you their reasons that are aligned with BC FIPPA, provide follow-up contact information, and suggest that you review section 53 or section 63 of BC FIPPA.
If you are denied access to parts of or your entire request, you have the right to request a review by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia within 30 days of receipt of the public body’s written response, as per section 53 of BC FIPPA. Before going to the Commissioner’s Office, ask the public body to review their decision to deny, access, or delete information.
Under section 11 of BC FIPPA, if a public body determines it does not have the records you are requesting or only provides you with a portion of them, it has a legal duty to transfer your request to another public body. In addition, said public body must notify you in writing that it has transferred your request or indicate it has no records and provide other written assistance to you. If you doubt the public body’s response, you can ask them to reconsider, then appeal to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia.
For more information on request reviews, please visit the BC OIPC’s “How do I request a review” page.
The provincial public body may refuse to disclose the requested information for a number of reasons. Public bodies tend to withhold more information than they should in their initial response, especially with content that is sensitive, politically charged, or potentially damaging to the government.
If one or more exceptions under BC FIPPA apply to your request, a public body can remove or redact the excepted information and release the rest of the record to you. Listed below are the relevant sections of BC FIPPA that deal with exceptions to disclosure as per division 2 of BC FIPPA.
Exceptions to disclosure tend to be used liberally by public bodies. The refusal to disclose under any of the above sections of BC FIPPA does not mean that you cannot obtain access to the personal information you seek, as you are allowed to dispute the refusal through the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia.
Provincial public bodies may charge either an application fee or fees related to producing the records as per section 75(1) of BC FIPPA. Additionally, the public body may charge a deposit fee set by the public body head as per section 75(4)(b) of BC FIPPA. Under section 75(4)(a) of BC FIPPA, if a provincial public body charges a fee, they must first give a written estimate. Regarding section 75(7) of BC FIPPA, fees for services to produce records may vary between applicants but these fees can never be more than what the services cost.
Under section 75(2) and section 75(3) of BC FIPPA, a provincial public body cannot charge a fee regarding the first 3 hours used to produce the record nor can they charge an applicant requesting their own personal information.
Under section 75(5) of BC FIPPA, a public body may excuse fees related to producing records if the head of the public body finds that the applicant cannot afford the fee, if there is any fair reason to excuse the fee, or the request involves public interest. If an applicant requests fee excuse under section 75(5) of BC FIPPA, then the public body must respond within 20 days of the request as per section 75(6) of BC FIPPA.
Regarding requests for general information, there is a $10 application fee that applies to all general freedom of information requests in British Columbia.
As set out in section 75(5) of BC FIPPA, provincial public bodies in BC will consider waiving fees if you make a request to them in writing. You must be able to prove either that the records you seek relate to a matter of public interest, or that your personal circumstances (such as the lack of ability to pay a fee) make it unfair to levy one on your request.
Fees are often used by public bodies to discourage requests or encourage requesters to narrow their focus. However, you can ask for fees to be waived. A fee will not be waived unless you ask for a waiver. If you plan to ask for a refund or fee waiver, add this information to your initial request.
The public body must respond in writing within 20 days of receiving your request for a fee waiver, as per section 75(6) of BC FIPPA. The 30-business day response time is suspended from the time you are provided the fee estimate until you pay the fee or deposit, or until they agree to waive the fees. You may choose to pay the deposit and then request to waive the overall fee to avoid any delays on your request.
Many public bodies and organizations, including the provincial government, have a policy that notes that fees charged under BC FIPPA should allow them to recover a portion of the processing costs. However, fees are not mandatory (as per OIPC Order 90-1996) and can be waived under section 75(5) of BC FIPPA if the applicant cannot afford the payment or for any other reason it is fair to excuse payment, or if the record relates to a matter of public interest, including the environment or public health or safety.
You should consider the following when preparing your fee waiver request:
As per the BC government’s interpretation of section 75(5) of BC FIPPA, provincial public bodies will consider the following, which is a non-exhaustive list of factors when deciding if all or only a portion of your fees should be waived:
If you are requesting information that is in the public interest, we recommend you submit a written explanation of why you should not be charged a fee and include as much proof as possible to convince the public body to waive the fee. Always send your fee waiver requests to the person who sent you the fee estimate.
If you are unsatisfied with any decision, act, refusal, or failure to act regarding a request for a record or correction of your personal information, you have the right to file a complaint or request a review through the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia as per section 52 of BC FIPPA.
As per section 53(2) of BC FIPPA, please file a complaint about the response time, extension, refusal, fee, or any other issue to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia within 30 days of receiving notice of the fee.
For more information about complaints, please visit FIPA’s complaint and review page.
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.