Freedom of Information (FOI) Frequently Asked Questions

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.

FOI Process

When you make an FOI request to the provincial government, you can only access records held by those public bodies (ministries or agencies). If you would like to access records from another public body outside of government, you will have to submit a request directly to those public bodies. (e.g. Crown Corporations, school districts, health authorities, RCMP)

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 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.

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.

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.

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 include:

Ministry of Children and Family Development:

  • Child in Care records

  • Child, Youth and Mental Health records

  • Child Protection records

  • Adoption 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:

  • Eligibility

  • Assessment

  • Planning

  • 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

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. 

Although section 5 of FOIPPA requires a request under the Act to be made in writing, it does not require applicants to provide a telephone number, address, or even their name when making a request.  

Applicants may submit a request using our online form with minimal identifying information  though Information Access Operations recommends a valid email be used to facilitate timely processing of a request. To pay the required application fee, applicants use a separate PayBC service, where the cardholder’s true name and credit card details are required for payment.  This information is not stored on file, or accessible by Information Access Operations.  Alternately, applicants may submit a request via post, using any name pairing and valid postal address (or email), including payment of the non-refundable application fee in the envelope.

Mail to:

Freedom of Information Request
PO Box 9569
Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC V8W 9K1

Please be aware that files submitted with minimal contact information may experience delays or problems in processing the request, or issues fully meeting the applicant's information needs.

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 18.1: Disclosure harmful to interests of an Indigenous people

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

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.

If you have questions about the response you received, including the ministry’s decision to withhold information, please 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.

Call 250-387-1321 or toll free at 833-283-8200 and quote your FOI request file number to be connected with the analyst assigned to your file.

 

Fees

When you make an FOI request to the provincial government, you can only access records held by those public bodies (ministries or agencies).

There are no application fees or processing fees for personal FOI requests.

Application Fees:

A non-refundable application fee of $10 is required for all General FOI requests. Directing a request to multiple public bodies will result in multiple application fees being assessed. Indigenous governing entities (IGE) are not required to pay application fees. Indigenous governing entity “means an Indigenous entity that exercises governmental functions, and includes but is not limited to an Indigenous governing body as defined in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.”

Your request will not be processed until payment is received. Fee payments are accepted 8:30am to 4:30pm PST Monday to Friday, excluding statutory holidays, by phone at 250-387-1321 option 2. If calling from outside of Victoria, please call toll free at 833-283-8200 option 2. All major credit cards are accepted.

To pay a fee by cheque, please send a cheque or money order made payable to the Minister of Finance, quote your file number and mail it to:

Information Access Operations

PO Box 9569
Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC V8W 9K1

If you would like to access records from another public body outside of government, you will have to submit a request directly to those public bodies. (e.g. Crown Corporations, school districts, health authorities, RCMP)

Processing fees may be charged for:

Please note that additional processing fees may apply to General FOI requests, depending on the size and complexity of the request description. Section 75 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act outlines the processing fees that can be charged for non-personal FOI requests for the following tasks or services:

  • locating, retrieving and producing the record;
  • preparing the record for disclosure;
  • shipping and handling the record;
  • providing a copy of the record.

There are no processing fees charged for:

  • the first three hours spent locating and retrieving a record; or
  • time spent severing (removing) information from a record.

Please see the Fees for Freedom of Information Request page for more details.

You can pay online with a credit card when you submit your FOI request using the online FOI request form. Follow the steps in the Freedom of Information Request webform. You will be prompted to enter your payment information in the final steps. Once your payment is successfully processed your FOI request will be submitted.

If you do not have a credit card, you can also use a Visa Debit Card or Debit MasterCard that is linked to your bank account. When you use the card online, it's processed like a credit card, but the money is taken from your bank account. Check with your bank to learn more about getting one of these cards.

If you provided an email address when submitting your FOI request, a receipt will be emailed to that address. If you did not provide an email address and you require a receipt, please contact Information Access Operations at 1-833-283-8200 with your transaction ID.

If you have questions, please contact Information Access Operations at 833-283-8200 option 2.

Please note:

  • Indigenous governing entities are not required to pay application fees.
  • There are no application fees or processing fees for personal FOI requests.

Fee payments are accepted 8:30am to 4:30pm PST Monday to Friday, excluding statutory holidays, by phone at 250-387-1321 option 2. If you are calling from outside of Victoria, please call toll free at 833-283-8200 option 2. All major credit cards are accepted.

To pay a fee by cheque, please send a cheque or money order made payable to the Minister of Finance, quote your file number and mail it to:

Information Access Operations

PO Box 9569
Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC V8W 9K1

Please note:

  • Indigenous governing entities are not required to pay application fees.
  • There are no application fees or processing fees for personal FOI requests.

Application fees apply only to non-personal requests and cannot be waived.

The application fee applies to each public body that you request information from. If additional public bodies have records beyond your original request, your request may be transferred to ensure you get the information requested and additional application fees would apply.

You will be notified before the request is transferred to an additional public body and additional requests will not be processed until all application fees are paid.

FOI application fees are non-refundable.There will be no refunds if no records were found or if you are unsatisfied with the records that you receive as a response to your request. Your application fee is for the administrative work required to initiate your request, and not for the records themselves. It is possible for fees to be refunded in extenuating circumstances.

Children & Family Records

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:

  1. that one is a person legally entitled to access the child’s information; and
  2. 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.

Contact Information

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

Telephone: 250-387-1321
Toll Free: 833-283-8200

Fax: 250-387-9843
Email: FOI.Requests@gov.bc.ca