Freedom of Information Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
To help you get the information you need in a timely manner, we’ve compiled this list of frequently asked questions that provide context and clarity for common topics within the realm of FOI.
Is there a cost to make a request for B.C. government records?
There is no application fee to make a request for records in B.C.; however, depending on the size and complexity of an FOI general request, fees may be charged for services provided. If a fee is chargeable for your request, your IAO analyst can work with you to explore options to reduce or possibly eliminate the fee by narrowing your request. There is no fee for processing FOI personal requests.
What FOI services may have fees applied?
FOIPPA section 75 permits fees to be charged on FOI requests for the services listed below. Fees for these services are charged at rates listed in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Regulation:
- locating, retrieving and producing the record;
- preparing the record for disclosure;
- shipping and handling the record; and
- providing a copy of the record.
Fees are not charged for:
- the first 3 hours spent locating and retrieving a record; or
- time spent severing (removing) information from a record.
Visit the Fees for FOI request page for additional information
How long will it take to receive my records?
It could take 30 business days, or longer, to respond to your request. This time may be extended under FOIPPA when a large volume of records is requested; when additional time is needed to consult with third parties or other public bodies; or if we need to work with you to clarify your request.
Large complex FOI requests take longer to process than small simple requests. You may wish to work with your IAO analyst to try to narrow and simplify your request to help expedite processing.
I am going to court and I need to have my records today.
We are unable to respond to requests for records that quickly. All records need to be reviewed carefully before they are released, to ensure that you get a complete response to your request, and to protect the privacy of others.
Common Types of Personal Records requested under FOIPPA
Ministry of Children and Family Development:
Child in Care records
Child, Youth and Mental Health records
Child Protection records
Foster Parent records
Daycare Subsidy records
*MCFD records available to individuals for their own information directly from the Ministry (outside of the formal FOI process):
Copies of a client’s own identification on file; (BCID, birth certificate etc.)
Any forms completed by the client that they have supplied to the ministry (example - a form the social worker asks a client to complete)
Copies of information that a client has voluntarily provided and it is clear that client supplied the item (example – letters from a character reference, landlord, doctor or counsellor)
Printouts of Child Care Subsidy Benefit Plans already in place; (requestor could be the child care provider or a ministry client receiving subsidy benefits) – these requests can go directly to Child Care Subsidy for response
Ministry correspondence addressed to and previously provided to the client
Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General:
BC Corrections Branch records
Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles (OSMV) records (e.g. Driver Fitness file)
Victim Assistance program records
Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction (MSDPR*):
Income Assistance records
Disability Assistance records
Health Assistance Branch records
Employment Skills/Training records
Family Maintenance records (Note: Family Maintenance Enforcement program records are held by the Ministry of Justice)
*MSDPR records available to individuals for their own information directly from the Ministry (outside of the formal FOI process):
Records submitted by clients (individuals) to the ministry, for example a doctor’s letter, a pay stub, a monthly report (SD0081) form, identification records.
A copy of a record that was previously provided by the ministry to a client (individual), for example a letter from an Employment and Assistance Worker.
Calculation of benefits records (T5007 information)
Cheque history information
Community Living BC:
Service Provider (Agency) Records
BC Public Service Agency:
B.C. government staff employment records
B.C. government employee payroll records
B.C. government employee occupational health records
Are there any exceptions to disclosure?
As defined in Part 2, Division 2 of FOIPPA, each section listed below has its own tests to determine if information should be excepted from disclosure through FOI. Refer to those sections to determine the appropriate tests.
Section 12: Cabinet confidences
Section 13: Advice or recommendations
Section 14: Legal advice
Section 15: Harm to law enforcement
Section 16: Harm to intergovernmental relations or negotiations
Section 17: Harm to financial or economic interests of a public body
Section 18: Harm to conservation of heritage sites
Section 19: Harm to individual or public safety
Section 20: Information to be published or released within 60 days
Section 21: Harm to business interests of a third party
Section 22: Harm to personal privacy
Section 22.1: Information relating to abortion services
What information do I need to provide to access my personal records?
You will need to provide your full legal name and mailing address. It is also helpful to provide a daytime phone number so we can contact you if there are questions about your request. You should be clear about what kind of records you want; for example, what type of government services did you receive? You may need to provide additional information to ensure that we are able to match the correct records to you.
Once you’ve determined the type of FOI request you need, you can begin your application through our online form.
Where/how do I send a request for records to Information Access Operations (IAO)?
Where to submit a Freedom of Information (FOI) request depends on which public body holds the records. Information Access Operations (IAO) is the FOI service provider for B.C. government ministries and the Office of the Premier. FOI requests for records of B.C. public bodies that are not served IAO should be submitted to those bodies directly.
FOI requests for general (non-personal) records held by B.C. government ministries may be submitted to IAO using the online FOI form (recommended). These requests also may be sent by email to FOI.Requests@gov.bc.ca, by fax to 250-387-9843, or by hardcopy mail to:
Freedom of Information Request
PO Box 9569
Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC V8W 9K1
FOI requests for personal records held by B.C. government ministries may be submitted to IAO at the above email, fax or postal address, or through the Request Personal Records online form. FOI requests for records of B.C. public bodies that are not served by IAO should be submitted to those bodies directly. Most have their own website, which should include information on how to submit FOI requests.
How can I make a request for records to a B.C. government ministry?
First, check with the ministry that you believe holds the records to confirm your assumption and see if the records are routinely available. If you are requesting general (not personal) records, you also can check the Open Information website to see if the records you want are published there. FOI requests must be in writing.
If you are requesting records from a B.C. government ministry or the Office of the Premier, please submit your request to Information Access Operations (IAO). Select/identify the ministry from which you are requesting records and describe those records clearly and concisely. If you are requesting records from other public bodies not served by IAO, you will need to send your request to those public bodies directly. Most public bodies have their own websites with contact information.
How do I get information about the status of my FOI request to a ministry?
Call 250-387-1321, quote your FOI request file number, and ask for the IAO analyst assigned to your file. This phone number can be reached toll-free by calling from Vancouver at 604-660-2421. Elsewhere in B.C. call 1-800-663-7867 and ask to be transferred to 250-387-1321.
Can you email my copies of ministry records when they are ready?
We are happy to email records that respond to FOI general requests. Personal records are not sent by email for security reasons, to ensure that unauthorized persons cannot access your personal information. We can arrange for you to pick up your records in person at certain government offices, where you will need to show identification before receiving them. If you need your records urgently, you can arrange for a courier to pick them up and deliver them to you at your expense.
Record requests about family members (or for someone else):
In some cases, you may be permitted to access another person’s personal records. If you need advice on submitting these requests, please contact IAO at 250-387-1321.
Record requests for a deceased person:
Personal privacy rights continue after a person has died. Section 5 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Regulation describes who can access a deceased person’s personal records. Privacy rights for deceased individuals diminish over time, so the records you can access may depend on how long it has been since the person died.
If a child under 12 years of age is currently in the custody of the MCFD, you are not entitled to access to his or her personal information: see section 76(1) of the CFCSA. You may re-apply for access once the child is returned to your legal care.
Section 5 of the FOIPPA, section 3 of the FOIPP Regulation, and section 76 of the Child, Family, and Community Service Act (CFCSA) indicate that a request for access to a child’s personal information must be made on the child’s behalf. The rationale for requiring applicants to indicate how they are acting on behalf of the child is based on previous decisions of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, which have decided that an individual claiming to exercise the right of access to a record on behalf of another is required to be truly acting "on behalf of" that other person as opposed to acting in their own personal interests.
Section 5 of the FOIPPA, section 3 of the FOIPPA Regulation and section 76 of the Child, Family, and Community Service Act (CFCSA) state that in order for you to exercise the right of a child under 12 years of age to access their personal information, two requirements must be met:
- that one is a person legally entitled to access the child’s information; and
- that one is acting on behalf of the child
If you are a guardian of your child as defined in sec 39 of the FLA and you have parenting responsibilities for your child as defined in sec 40 of the FLA then providing the most current FLA court order or agreement will satisfy section 3 of the FOIPPA Regulation.
What if I don’t have a Family Law Act (FLA) court order or agreement? Can I still obtain my child’s records?
Yes. Section 40 of the FLA states that unless a court order or agreement allocates guardianship and parental responsibilities differently, each child’s guardian may exercise all parental responsibilities with respect to the child, in consultation with the child’s other guardians unless consultation would be unreasonable or inappropriate in the circumstances.
If a child is over 12, but under the age of 19 years, and is unable to understand and provide informed written consent, you will need to establish eligibility to act for an incapable minor under section 76 of the Child, Family, and Community Service Act (CFCSA), section 5 of the FOIPPA and section 3 of the FOIPP Regulations. You will need to complete the Guardian Declaration form.
If an adult over 19 is unable to understand and provide informed written consent, you will need to establish eligibility to act for the person under section 4 of FOIPPA. You will need to provide a copy of your documentation, such as a Representation Agreement to enable IAO to proceed with your request.
When a parent or other applicant indicates they require access to a child’s records for a court matter related to guardianship or parenting arrangements, the Ministry has been unable to conclude that the applicant is acting “on behalf” of the child for the purposes of section 5 of FOIPPA, section 3 of the FOIPP Regulation, and section 76 of the Child, Family, and Community Service Act (CFCSA).
When IAO denies a parent or other applicant access to a child’s information because the applicant does not meet the legislative requirements for an access to information request, this does not close the door to the Court obtaining access to this information if needed to make a decision. Any party to a proceeding under the FLA has the option of applying to the court for access to MCFD records for the purposes of a proceeding under that Act. However, that judicial process is completely separate from the access to information process under the FOIPPA.
The Child, Family, and Community Service Act (CFCSA) recognizes the right of a child 12 years and over to act on his or her own behalf unless he or she is incapable.
What do I do if I disagree with the ministry’s decision to withhold information from my requested records?
If you have questions about the response you received, contact the IAO analyst who processed your request. If the analyst is unable to address your concerns, you may request a review by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) within 30 business days of receiving the IAO response letter to your FOI request. Information on the review process is included in the response letter, or you may contact the OIPC.
If you have questions about the Freedom of Information (FOI) process for B.C. government ministries or the Office of the Premier, contact Information Access Operations:
Information Access Operations
PO Box 9569
Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC V8W 9K1