Procedure 20-5 - Handling Access to Information Requests

Date effective: 2011-12-21, Revision: 2018-04-10

Authorized by: Administrative Committee

HANDLING ACCESS TO INFORMATION REQUESTS

PURPOSE

1.    The purpose of this Procedure is to set out the procedures for handling access to information requests under the FIPPA or other Applicable Access and Privacy Legislation.

INTERPRETATION

2.    This Procedure shall be read in a manner that is consistent with the University’s obligations under FIPPA and other Applicable Access and Privacy Legislation as well as Policy 90 – Access to Information and Protection of Privacy.

3.    Capitalized words or expressions used in this Procedure are defined in Policy 90 or in this Procedure.

BASIC STEPS

4.    The steps in processing an Access Request (as defined in paragraph 4 (a) of this Procedure) may vary depending on its nature. There may also be other considerations taken into account by the Director (see “Other Considerations” below) that may require additional steps before the Director decides whether to release records. Generally, the steps in processing an Access Request are as follows:

  • a)    Filing an Access Request: An Access Request means a formal written request for access to general or Personal Information under FIPPA (“Access Request”). An Access Request shall be submitted in writing, addressed to the Director and must provide sufficient detail to enable the Director to identify the records sought. The person submitting the Access Request (“Requester”) shall pay the initial fee (see “Fees” below) and either complete and sign the prescribed Access Request Form or set out in writing the following:
    • i)    a confirmation that the Access Request is made under FIPPA;
    • ii)    a description of the nature of the records sought;
    • iii)    the time period to which the records sought may relate;
    • iv)    information or suggestions regarding locations, offices, or academic or administrative units in which the records sought may be found; and
    • v)    potential key search words that may be used when conducting a search for the records sought.
  • b)    Acknowledgment of receipt: The Director opens a file and an acknowledgement letter is sent to the Requester.
  • c)    Search for records: The Director contacts staff within the relevant academic or administrative unit or office to require that a search for records responsive to the Access Request be conducted. The Director shall assist staff by making suggestions on how to conduct the search. Staff are encouraged to seek guidance from the Director if it is likely that the search will yield a large number of records, if there are any foreseen complications in conducting the search, or if there are questions or concerns related to the Access Request.
  • d)    Review of records: The records identified as a result of the search are sent to the Director. The Director reviews all such records to determine whether any exemptions and/or exclusions pursuant to FIPPA apply and will contact the staff involved in conducting the search for any clarifications as necessary. There may be other considerations (see “Other Considerations” below) that the Director may take into before proceeding.
  • e)    Preparation of records: After the Director reviews the records and assesses whether there are any applicable exemptions and/or exclusions under FIPPA, the Director prepares the records for release (for a list of examples of exemptions and exclusions that often apply, see Best Practices #2: FIPPA Exclusions  and Exemptions)
  • f)    Decision letter: The Director sends a letter to the Requester informing the Requester of the Director’s decision whether to release the records in part or in their entirety and the fees associated with the release of the records (see “Fees” below). Where applicable the Director also informs any Affected Third Party (see paragraph 5(e) of this Procedure) of the Director’s decision whether to release the records in part or in their entirety.
  • g)    Release of records: Once the Requester pays the fees associated with the Access Request (see “Fees” below), the Director sends a copy of the responsive records that the Director has decided to release to the Requester.
  • h)    Appeal: If the Requester disagrees with the Director’s decision, the Requester may file an appeal with the Information and Privacy Commissioner (“IPC”) pursuant to FIPPA. An Affected Third Party (see paragraph 5 (e) of this Procedure) may also appeal a decision made by the Director in respect of an Access Request. In all cases, the appeal is to the IPC and shall be made in writing to the IPC within 30 consecutive days f rom the date of the Director’s letter informing the Requester of the Director’s decision. The Director shall participate in any mediation conducted by the IPC and respond to the issues on appeal.
  • i)    File closed: The Director shall close the Access Request upon its completion or final disposition by the IPC on appeal, or if the Requester:
    • i)    has not provided the Director with sufficient clarification regarding the scope of the Access Request following the Director’s request for such clarification;
    • ii)    has not paid in full the fees associated with the Access Request;
    • iii)    has not filed an appeal of a decision with the IPC within the prescribed appeal period or has exhausted all rights of appeal to the IPC; or
    • iv)    has not responded to correspondence from the Director within 30 consecutive days from the date of the correspondence.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

5.    Notwithstanding the basic steps outlined above (see “Basic steps”), certain considerations may cause the Director to change the order of or otherwise vary the basic steps outlined above, including without limitation:

  • a)    Frivolous or vexatious requests: The Director may deny Access Requests which in the Director’s view are frivolous or vexatious. In such cases, the Director shall notify the Requester of his or her decision, give reasons for which the Access Request is considered frivolous or vexatious, and inform the Requester of his or her right of appeal to the IPC.
  • b)    Verification of the identity of the Requester: The Director may ask for verification of the identity of a person seeking access to his or her own Personal Information before giving the person access to such information.
  • c)    Clarification of an Access Request: If the Access Request is not sufficiently clear or is so broad in scope that it is difficult to identify the records being requested, the Director may write to the Requester seeking clarification before taking further steps. The Requester shall have 30 consecutive days from the date of the Director’s letter to clarify the Access Request. If there is no response, the Access Request shall be considered abandoned and the Director shall close the file.
  • d)    Exemptions and exclusions: There are certain types of records that come within the scope of FIPPA but may be exempt from disclosure in order to protect the public interest, privacy, University operations or other important interests. In other instances, a record may be entirely excluded from the scope of FIPPA. The Director may consult with staff in the relevant academic or administrative unit or office that are familiar with the content of the records in order to gain a better understanding of whether exemptions or exclusions may apply to all or part of the records. Examples of exemptions and exclusions that often apply are found in Best Practices #2: FIPPA Exclusions and Exemptions.
  • e)    Notice to an Affected Third Party: A record may contain information that reveals commercial, financial or other information belonging to an external person or an external organization (“Affected Third Party”). FIPPA requires that the University notify Affected Third Parties if the University intends to disclose records that contain such information. If the Director intends to disclose such a record, the Director shall send a letter to the Affected Third Party enclosing a copy of the record and inviting the Affected Third Party to send written comments to the Director regarding potential release of the record. The Director shall consider the comments sent by the Affected Third Party. Ultimately, the Director shall decide whether or not to release the information contained in the record and shall do so within the time prescribed by FIPPA. If the Director decides that a record containing the Affected Third Party information will be disclosed, the Director will so inform the Affected Third Party and of their right to appeal such decision to the IPC.
  • f)    Record containing information about another person: A record may contain information about a person other than the Requester. Generally, such information is not disclosed if it falls within an exemption under FIPPA. If, however, no exemption under FIPPA applies to such information and it appears that the record containing it will be disclosed, then the Director may, where he or she considers it advisable or necessary in the conduct of his or her responsibilities, (i) contact that person to whom the information relates and provide him or her with a copy of the record containing the information; (ii) invite the person to send written comments to the Director on whether or not the information should be released; and (iii) if the person is a unionized employee of the University, remind the person that he or she is free to consult with their union before sending comments to the Director. The Director will consider the person’s comments, if any, prior to issuing a decision. Ultimately, the Director decides whether or not to release the information contained in the record and must do so within the time prescribed by FIPPA.
  • g)    Interim access decisions: The Director may issue an interim decision pertaining to, for example, a fee estimate which is an estimate of fees associated with fulfillment of the Access Request. The fee estimate is based on a representative sample of responsive records and/or the advice of knowledgeable staff that are familiar with the type and content of the records sought. In such cases the Director shall require payment of a deposit equivalent to 50% of the fee estimate before taking any further steps in processing the Access Request.

DEADLINES AND EXTENSIONS

6.    The Director is generally required, under FIPPA, to issue a decision on whether or not to disclose records within 30 consecutive days. The 30-day time period begins to run on the date the Director receives the written Access Request and payment of the initial fee or, where applicable, upon receipt of sufficient clarification of the Access Request. In the case of an interim decision in which the Director provides an estimate of the fees associated with fulfillment of the Access Request, the 30-day time period will be suspended until the Director receives payment in full of the deposit, at which time the 30-day time period will resume.

7.    The Director may in appropriate circumstances extend the 30-day deadline in accordance with FIPPA and shall notify the Requester in writing of any such extension of time. Generally, the Director will extend the time period when the Access Request is for a large number of records, requires a search of a large number of records, or requires consultation with Affected Third Parties.

FEES

8.    FIPPA allows the University to charge fees for the processing of Access Requests. An initial and non- refundable fee shall be paid before the Director begins to process the Access Request and records shall not be released until the Director receives payment in full of all fees associated with the Access Request. In the case of an interim decision in which the Director requires payment of a deposit equivalent to 50% of estimated fees, the Director will not take any further steps in processing the Access Request until the deposit is paid in full. Fees must be paid in cash or by certified cheque or money order. A personal cheque will not be accepted for fees exceeding $5.00.

9.    Information on fees shall be posted on the AIPO’s website.

10.    If a Requester asks the Director to waive the fees associated with an Access Request, the Director shall consider whether it is fair and equitable to do so in the circumstances and upon consideration of such factors as financial hardship, public health and safety benefits, and any other matter required by FIPPA. If the Director decides not to waive the fees, a Requester may write to the IPC and request a review of such decision.

AMENDMENTS

11. The Secretary-General of the University may approve exceptions or make amendments to this Procedure.

Published on December 21, 2011, Revised on March 28, 2018

(Office of the Secretary-General)

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