Rights and Governments

How to Make an Access to Information Request

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An access to information request makes it possible for you to obtain certain documents from a public body, such as a government department or a municipality. In Quebec, anyone can make such a request. It involves several steps.

1. Check if the information is already available

Before making a request, check if the information is already available on the organization’s website.

By law, some organizations must include certain information on their websites, such as their organizational chart, travel expenses, and documents already disclosed through previous access to information requests.

For a complete list (French only), see the website the de Commission d’accès à l’information (access to information commission).

2. Identify the document you’re looking for

If you can’t find what you’re looking for online, ask yourself what type of document is likely to have the information you want.

For example:

  • the minutes of a city council meeting that took place on a specific date
  • the salary scale and expense statements of public service workers
  • a work contract, a service contract, or a letter of dismissal
  • emails sent between public servants regarding a specific topic

You should be as specific as possible. The request must be for an existing document. The organization is not obliged to create a new document that answers your request point by point.

You can consult the organization’s “plan de classification” to help you identify the type of document you are looking for. This list resembles a table of contents. It provides an overview of the types of documents the organization keeps on file as part of its activities. It is usually available on the organization’s website. It may have another name, such as “plan de classement”, “liste de classification”, or “structure de classification”.

The law obliges organizations to be flexible and to guide you
  • if you are having difficulty identifying the type of document you’re looking for, or
  • if you require accommodations due to a disability.

3. Prepare your request

It is possible to make a request verbally (by phone or in person).

However, it is recommended to make the request in writing (by email or otherwise). This is because, if the organization refuses your request or its response is incomplete, you can only contest the decision if you have written proof of your request.

To write your request, you can use the forms on the website of the access to information commission.

4. Send your request

Send your request to the person responsible for access to information in the organization.

To find out who this is, you can consult the List of concerned public bodies and persons in charge of An act respecting access on the website of the access to information commission (scroll down to the Lists section).

You can also contact the commission or Services Quebec to obtain this information.

5. Pay the fees

Consulting documents in person is free of charge. But if you wish to have copies of documents, the organization can charge you fees for transcription, copying, and delivery. The organization must provide an estimate of these costs in advance.

These fees have been set by the government. In case of doubt, don’t hesitate to check the accuracy of these costs with the access to information commission.

The Organization’s Response

Once a public body has received your request, it has 20 days to respond or to send you a notice that it will be late. If it sends such a notice, it has an additional 10 days (30 days in total) to respond.

Three types of responses are possible:

The organization must provide you with access to the document.

It can either provide you with a copy or invite you to consult the document in person during its opening hours.

Some parts may be blacked out (“redacted”) to make them impossible to read. This may be the case for personal information, for example.

When the information is in digital format, you can request a “written and intelligible” transcript. For example, you could ask for a written transcript of a meeting in addition to the audio file, or an Excel file in digital format, rather than a printed version that would take up many pages.

If you are living with a disability, you can also request reasonable accommodations that are necessary for you to consult and understand the document.

The organization must explain why it refused your request.

It must identify the article of law that justifies its decision.

If you need help to understand, it must answer your questions.

Finally, it must inform you of the recourses available to contest this decision and the applicable time limits.

Here are some possible reasons for refusal:

  • The document requested is not “public”. This could be because it is a draft, a legal opinion, an expert opinion, or is protected by professional secrecy.
  • Disclosing the document could harm intergovernmental relations, negotiations between public bodies, the administration of justice, or public security.
  • Disclosing the document could reveal an industrial secret or interfere with negotiations concerning a potential contract.

Your request is considered to have been refused.

If the organization refuses your request or does not respond

You have 30 days to ask the access to information commission to review the organization’s decision.

This is only possible if you made your access to information request in writing.  

Your application to have the decision reviewed by the commission must also be in writing.

The access to information commission has a form for this type of application. Commission staff can assist you in completing the form if necessary.

Here’s a reminder of the time limits that must be respected:

The organization receives your request

The organization answers you or sends you a notice that it will be late

The organization has 20 days to answer you or inform you that it will be late.

The organization answers late

The organization has an additional 10 days (30 days in total) to answer you, if it informed you that it will be late.

In case of a refusal or no reply

You can make an “Application for Review”

You have 30 days from the date of the refusal to file this application with the Commission d’accès à l’information (access to information commission).

If the organization did not reply, your time limit to file the application is 30 days from the organization’s deadline to answer you.