Requesting personal information from the British Columbia government and public bodies
You can request your personal information from the British Columbia Government’s Ministries, local governments, municipal police forces and crown corporations under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). For a guide to FIPPA from the Ministry of Technology, Innovation, and Citizen Services, click here.
The information you can request under FIPPA includes reports, audits, financial information and any other records that contain your personal information.
How do I request my personal information?
To request your personal information from a BC Government Ministry, you can either write a letter or use the government’s Request for Access to Personal Information form. In both cases, you will have to 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, any other names you use/have used, your mailing address, phone number, date of birth and any identifying number that is specifically related to your request.
Step 3: Describe the personal records you are seeking, as clearly and concisely as possible. If applicable, name the program or service that you are seeking information from.
Step 4: Decide on a date range for the records you want. Try to be as specific as possible.
Step 5: Email, fax or mail your letter or the government’s Request for Access to Personal Information form to:
Freedom of Information Request
PO Box 9569 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC, V8W 9K1
Phone: (250) 387-1321
Fax Number: (250) 387-9843
For more information and forms, you can also visit the Open Government Freedom of Information website.
To request your personal information from a local government, municipal police force or a crown corporation, check with the organization itself to see if there are any specific forms. For example, you can submit a FOI request directly to the Vancouver Police Department (VPD).
If not, write a letter that provides the following information:
- Your full legal name, any other names you use/have used, your mailing address, phone number, date of birth and any identifying number that is specifically related to your request.
- A description of the personal records you are seeking, stated as clearly and concisely as possible.
- A date range for the records you want. Try to be as specific as possible.
Email, fax or mail your letter to the privacy officer for the specific municipal government, police force or crown corporation.
Is there a fee?
There is no fee for submitting a request for access to records in BC and no fee may be charged by a public body for providing you with access to your own personal information.
How long will it take for a response?
A public body must respond to a request within 30 business days, but may extend the time for responding in certain circumstances. If it extends the time to respond, it must tell you so and explain the reason why. It must also tell you when you can expect a complete response.
What if you’re not sure how to make the request, or have a language barrier?
Public bodies have a duty to assist you in your information requests, and must make every reasonable effort to respond without delay, openly, accurately and completely. Sometimes a public body may contact you to narrow down the type of records you are looking for or to clarify your request. You can help the public body find the records you want by answering its questions.
What if you want the information in a specific format, or you want only certain parts of the information?
A public body must create a record for an applicant from information in its custody or control, if the information exists, if a record of the information can be created using normal computer systems, and if doing so would not unreasonably interfere with the operations of the public body.
Sometimes creating entirely new records of information that exist in another format can be time consuming and expensive, so a public body may resist doing so. The Information and Privacy Commissioner has generally not been very sympathetic to arguments by public bodies and has said that several factors will be considered when deciding whether to allow a public body to refuse to create a record. One factor will be the burden that creating the record would put on the public body’s information systems resources in relation to its total resources. Another factor would be the size and complexity of the task.
When can the public body refuse to give you access?
If the public body has records containing your personal information, it must give you access to them, unless there are reasons to refuse access to all or part of the records you seek. If it refuses to give you access, it must tell you why. It must also tell you that you have a right to request a review of its decision by the Information and Privacy Commissioner within 30 working days.
There are certain limited circumstances when a public body might not give you access. For example, the public body is not allowed to give access to information that would reveal cabinet confidences. It can choose not to give access to policy advice or recommendations or legal advice, or to information if the disclosure could be harmful to a law enforcement matter, to national security, or to individual or public safety. Public bodies are not allowed to disclose information if doing so would result in the unreasonable invasion of someone else’s personal privacy. There are some exceptions to each of these limits on disclosure. Please note that you might have to scroll down the page, accessed by clicking the links below, to find the exception of interest.
Section 12 – Cabinet and local public body confidences
Section 13 – Policy advice or recommendations
Section 14 – Legal advice
Section 15 – Disclosure harmful to law enforcement
Section 19 – Disclosure harmful to individual or public safety
Section 22 – Disclosure harmful to personal privacy
Section 22.1 – Disclosure of information relating to abortion services
What happens if the public body does not have the record you want?
If the public body does not have the records you requested, it must tell you. If it knows that another public body has the records you want it can transfer your request to that public body. If it does transfer your request, it must tell you that it has done so. The public body which receives your request must respond to you within 30 days of the transfer date.
If you are told that your request has been transferred, it is a good idea to contact the public body that received the transfer to find out if it needs any more information to respond to your request.
Your right to request correction to your personal information held by a BC Public Body
Public bodies have to make sure that the personal information they hold is accurate and complete. If you believe there is an error or omission in your personal information, you may ask the public body to correct it. You will have to provide proof to assure the public body that the correction should be made.
What does the public body have to do when you request a correction?
The public body can either make the correction or, if it decides that changing the information is not appropriate in the circumstances, it must make a note in the record to show that you asked for the correction, and what you wanted the correction to be.
For example, an opinion is a subjective assessment of your abilities, performance or other characteristics, so if you ask for a correction to an opinion, the public body usually will not make the correction because that would mean changing the opinion. Instead, the public body will make a note in the record saying that you do not agree with the opinion.
If the error is a simple factual error, and adequate proof is provided, the public body should make the correction.
In either case, if the public body has given the information out in the previous year to other public bodies or third parties, it has to tell them about the correction request, because they have to make the same correction or annotation to any record they have that contains your personal information. The public body must write to you and explain whether they corrected the information or not, and give you reasons for their decision.
How do I make a request for review?
If you have made a request for a record, or a request for correction of your personal information, you have a right to ask the BC Information and Privacy Commissioner to review any decision, act or failure to act by the public body in respect of that request.