In order to access government information under the FOI Laws, you must first determine which government institution is responsible for the information that you are seeking. Each government institution that is subject to the Access to Information Act is responsible for maintaining its own Access to Information.
Prior to submitting a request under the Access to Information Act, it may be beneficial to determine if the information that you are seeking is not already available through Proactive Disclosure or other government publications. A request can be submitted by using the Access to Information Request Form noted below or by indicating in a letter that certain information is requested under the Access to Information Act. Once you have determined which institution has the information that you are seeking you can submit your request. While information is supposed to be free, note that some fees may be charged by the institution prior to completing the processing of your request.
Records, regardless of the format, held under the control of a government institution are subject to the Access to Information Act. There are a few exceptions. This information is excluded, and therefore, the Act does not apply to these records. With respect to all other types of records, certain information may require exemption from access; such as information relating to national defence and security, law enforcement, cabinet minutes other individuals’ personal information.
The purpose of this Act is to enhance the accountability and transparency of federal institutions in order to promote an open and democratic society and to enable public debate on the conduct of those institutions.
The Access to Information Act sets out requirements for the proactive publication of information.
Requesters can appeal to the FOI body to re-examine their case.
The public body must have the request reviewed by someone more senior than the person who made the original decision. The reviewer can change or agree with the original decision.
If the requester is still unhappy with the decision, he or she has the right to appeal the decision to the Information Commissioner or to the courts of law.
The Commissioner has been appointed specifically to hear appeals from members of the public who are not happy with decisions made on their requests.
The public interest test provides that a public authority must release information unless, ‘in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information’. This requires the authority to make a judgement about the public interest. The Information Commissioner has identified the following factors that favour the disclosure of information:
As an individual you are entitled to access information from public authorities. Employees of the public institutions, including Ministries, Departments and Agencies need to be aware of the Act and should be prepared to act quickly if they receive a request for information. Public officials should also know all government records, including the records they keep, are potentially open to scrutiny by the public.
Access to information is critical for enabling citizens to exercise their voice, to effectively monitor and hold government to account, and to enter into informed dialogue about decisions which affect their lives.
It is seen as vital for empowering all citizens, including vulnerable and excluded people, to claim their broader rights and entitlements.
The potential contribution to good governance of access to information lies in both the willingness of government to be transparent, as well as the ability of citizens to demand and use information – both of which may be constrained in low capacity settings.
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