Freedom of information is the principle that individuals and the general public have the right to access information of interest. 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 filing information requests.
Information requests can be made in writing through different mediums and are typically filed online. Once you have filed a request, organizations are generally obligated to assist you and respond to your request within 30 days.
Simply, personal information is any information that can identify an individual. Each legislation’s definition of personal information has slight differences, but some general examples of personal information include:
The above rights come from provincial and federal legislation. Freedom of information (“FOI”) is the relevant term used when requesting information from a BC provincial public body or a BC private sector organization, while access to information and privacy (“ATIP”) is the relevant term used when requesting information from the federal government.
In BC, personal information privacy rights stem from British Columbia’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“BC FIPPA”) which applies to the public sector, and British Columbia’s Personal Information Protection Act (“BC PIPA”) which applies to the private sector and non-profit organizations.
In other provinces without legislation similar to BC FIPPA and BC PIPA, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (“PIPEDA”) applies. Please refer to this summary of privacy laws in Canada to see whether PIPEDA applies to your province.
For personal information from a federal body, your rights stem from the Privacy Act.
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 to file 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. Here are forms that 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:
Before you make a request, we recommend doing 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 below for instructions on filing requests under each category.
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.