|Volume 2 - Management Services
Chapter 1 - External Relations
Policy 1.3 - Responding to Requests for Information
Effective Date: 31-Jul-97
This policy covers guidelines and responsibilities on how to respond to requests for information.
Ministry of Forests staff must make every reasonable effort to assist applicants and respond openly, accurately, and completely to their requests.
The public has a legal right to access records in the custody or under the control of the Ministry of Forests and public bodies which fall under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Forests as stated in Schedule 2 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (the Act). The legislation contains exceptions to the right of disclosure that are specific and limited.
Individuals have a legal right of access to and a right to correction of personal information about themselves under the Act. As well, individuals have a right to protection of their personal information from unauthorized collection, use, and disclosure by government.
This policy does not in any way replace existing avenues for gaining access to public records. In many cases, information requested is already routinely released by the Ministry.
This policy applies to all records in the custody or under the control of the Ministry of Forests as well as the following public bodies listed in Schedule 2 of the Act including:
Requests for Information
Staff should assist applicants to define the scope of requests. This approach may save staff many hours of work and provide the applicant with much better results.
There are two methods for gaining access to public records:
A formal request under the Act is the avenue of last resort.
The Ministry has set up routine channels for the release of information available without a request. This type of information includes:
Where information is not available through routine channels, the Act provides:
Formal requests, which must be submitted in writing, should be referred to the FOI Contact in your office. Ministry staff should refer to Guidelines for Responding to Requests for Information in the Appendix of this policy.
The Ministry charges fees for responding to requests for information in accordance with legislation and regulations. Where fees are to be collected, a fee estimate must be provided to the applicant before staff begin acting on the request. In cases of large requests, staff may choose to collect half the fee estimate before acting on the request.
Exceptions to Disclosure
In responding to formal requests, the information is releasable unless an exception to disclosure in the Act applies. The common sense approach in dealing with a request for information to which exceptions may or do apply is to ask the question: Is it reasonable to expect that harm would result if the information in question were released? That is, would release of requested information reasonably be expected to harm, for instance, the financial or economic interest of a public body or the business interests of a third party?
The following criteria should be considered in determining harm under the Act. Harm should be:
With respect to a request for information about another person, the harm test to be applied is: Would disclosing the personal information be an unreasonable invasion of a third party's personal privacy?
Some information must not be released under the Act. Such information falls under exceptions to disclosures that are mandatory. The following must not be released:
Business Interests of a Third Party
However, even if all three conditions are met, the third party must be notified and may consent to release the information.
Personal information, which is protected under the Act, is defined as recorded information about an identifiable individual, including:
Personal information must not be released to anyone other than the individual the information is about, unless the Act provides for disclosure [See Sections 22(4), 33, 35, 36].
Some information may or may not be released under the Act. Such information falls under exceptions to disclosure that are discretionary. The head of the public body is expected to exercise discretion under the Act to decide whether to release or withhold the information. The following may or may not be released:
Considerations in Release
Requested information must be reviewed carefully by staff trained to apply the Act. Although it may be judged releasable under one exception, another exception may apply.
The Minister of Forests (Deputy Minister or designate) must disclose to the public, without delay, any information which the Minister feels is in the public interest, whether or not a request is made. The information may be about a risk of significant harm to the environment or to the health or safety of the public or a group of people. (Section 25)
Indicate changes in policy since previous revisionAppendix to Policy 1.3 - Guidelines for Responding to Information Requests