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 general information FOI requests are made, past successful results will usually be published and made accessible. Published FOI requests can be useful as they will either be the records you are looking for or they can act as 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 However, FOI requests for personal information will not be published in the same way.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 Information Rights and the BC Private Sector
If you make an FOI request for your personal information from a private organization in BC, that organization must provide you with any of your personal information in its custody or control, as per British Columbia’s Personal Information Protection Act (“BC PIPA”). A private organization under BC PIPA must also tell you how the organization has used your personal information and who has been given this information.
Provinces that do not have legislation similar to BC PIPA will be covered by the federal legislation, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (“PIPEDA”). Requests to organizations in provinces covered by PIPEDA are encouraged to provide the same types of information, although the requirement is generally not as strict.
Here is a summary of your legal rights stemming from BC PIPA that govern how your personal information is handled by a corporation. You have the right to:
BC Government FOI 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 under BC PIPA governed bodies.
If you need help locating the appropriate government body to request information from, please see the BC government’s help resource which you can contact through text, call, email, or in person.
In addition, please see the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC’s FOI request information page for BC PIPA governed bodies as well as its guide for PIPA.
Your right to request personal information from a BC private sector organization stems from British Columbia’s Personal Information Protection Act (“BC PIPA”). Part 8 of BC PIPA titled “Administration” contains the rules of the request process.
Under section 27 of BC PIPA, a formal request must be made to an organization in writing, either through mail or e-mail. Your request must also provide sufficient detail for the organization to identify you and to identify the personal information that you are requesting or asking to be corrected.
Please use the OIPC’s PIPA request form as a template for what to write. Alternatively, you can also use our request form.
The request can be directed to an individual within the organization who ensures compliance with BC PIPA. The contact info of these individuals must be made publicly available by an organization.
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.
Organizations are not permitted to charge you a fee if you are requesting your own personal information as an employee, as noted under section 32(1) of BC PIPA. However, if an employee requests information that is not their own personal information, then the organization may charge a “minimal fee” as per section 32(2) of BC PIPA. “Minimal fee” is not directly defined within BC PIPA.
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 and request a review through the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia as per section 47 of BC PIPA.
As per section 47(2) of BC PIPA, 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.
If your written request satisfies section 27 of BC PIPA, the organization must make a reasonable effort to assist you and respond as accurately and completely as possible. An organization must respond no later than 30 business days after receiving your written request as per section 29 of BC PIPA. However, organizations may request extensions under section 31 of BC PIPA for the following reasons:
An organization may either limit requested information or deny it completely. If an organization limits or denies a request, under section 30 of BC PIPA, the organization must tell the applicant the following:
You may choose to dispute the refusal, and must take action to review the refusal within 30 days of receiving notice of a refusal as per section 47 of BC PIPA. However, under section 47(3) of BC PIPA, the 30-day time limit does not apply if the organization has failed to respond within a time limit set in BC PIPA or the request is regarding a complaint.
Alternatively, you may reword and resubmit your request in its scope or specificity to receive a response.
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.