Before you file an access to information and privacy (“ATIP”) request, you should 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.
Your Personal Information Rights and Federal Public Bodies
Personal information held by the Government of Canada and its institutions is covered by the Privacy Act. Section 12 of the Privacy Act gives Canadians the right to access personal information held by federal institutions in the form of access to information and privacy (“ATIP”) requests. The Privacy Act also protects against unauthorized use and disclosure of information held by government institutions. Some federal services include pensions, employment insurance, and border security.
The Privacy Act only applies to the following federal institutions listed in the Privacy Act Schedule of Institutions. The Government of Canada has a list of all federal institutions and their access to information and privacy contacts.
Federal Government ATIP Online Resources
Please see the following ATIP resources created by the federal government:
These pages contain most, if not all, the information you will need to submit an ATIP request from a federal public body. Please note that although many of these pages repeat and overlap in information, it may still be useful to scan through each page.
When You File
STEP 1: Decide which federal government institution is most likely to hold personal information about you. If you are not sure, please visit Info Source for guidance, as well as the newly updated Info Source page: Information about Programs and Information Holdings.
STEP 2: Decide whether you would like to file either an informal request or a formal request, which would be legally compelling under the Privacy Act.
An informal request does not legally compel a response from the federal institution but it will be a faster process if successful. On the other hand, a formal request legally compels a response as it will follow all of the ATIP request requirements under the Privacy Act.
For informal requests, write to the government institution’s Access to Information and Privacy Coordinator and provide them with your name, address, and type of information you’re looking for (e.g., subject matter, date range, type of records, etc.).
For formal requests under the Privacy Act, please visit Canada’s Access to Information or Personal Information page to file a request online.
Alternatively, you may download and fill out the Personal Information Request Form and provide your language preference, name and contact information, and describe the information you’re looking for.
STEP 3 (If mailed): Mail your letter or form to the government institution’s Access to Information and Privacy Coordinator. If you are not sure who the Access and Privacy Coordinator is, look for a “privacy” link on the website of the institution you are requesting information from to see if they include the institution’s Access and Privacy Coordinator’s address and phone number.
Personal Information Request Forms are not accepted by email.
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 14 of the Privacy Act, a federal government institution must respond within 30 days to your written request for access to personal information. However, the institution may apply a 30-day extension to your request if it is necessary to respond to the request as per section 15 of the Privacy Act.
The government institution may refuse to grant you access to the personal information you seek, and is required to give you this notice and explanation within the allotted timeline as per section 16 of the Privacy Act.
There are a number of exceptions under the Privacy Act with which a government institution can refuse to grant access to personal 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.