FOI (Freedom of Information) queries: Tips, How To

How can you make a request for information from the City of Vancouver under Freedom of Information (FOI) regulations?

Below is (1) information excerpted from the City of Vancouver website, (2) a general template CityHallWatch has successfully used, and (3) some tips.

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1. EXCERPTS OF OFFICIAL INFORMATION FROM THE CITY

http://vancouver.ca/your-government/freedom-of-information.aspx

Freedom of Information (Excerpt from City of Vancouver, Sept 2014)

British Columbia’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act allows you access to information held by the City of Vancouver. You have the right to request any record in the custody or control of the City of Vancouver. This includes records containing your personal information.

Start with an informal request
The information you want may already be publicly available, so phone 3-1-1 for help accessing it. Your informal request may be free of charge, or come at a cost, depending on the department that manages the information you want.

Make a Freedom of Information request
If 3-1-1 or a City department cannot or will not provide you with the information, then file a formal request with the City’s Freedom of Information office.

The Act requires the City to respond to your FOI request within 30 business days of receiving it. If your request is complex, we may extend this time within what the Act allows, but will inform you of this within the 30 business days.
The Act allows us to withhold information if the release would be an invasion of privacy or cause harm by one of the means listed in the Act, such as harming a law enforcement investigation or threatening anyone’s health or safety. Only in exceptional situations can you get access to someone else’s personal information.

Contact the Information and Privacy Office
Address
City Clerk’s Office
3rd Floor, City Hall
453 West 12th Ave
Vancouver, BC V5Y 1V4

Fax: 604-873-7419

foi@vancouver.ca

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Make a Freedom of Information request

1. Complete and send the FOI request form

  • Keep your request simple, clear, and focused to reduce processing time and possible service fees.
  • If you have questions or need clarification about the City’s records before you send your request, contact the Information and Privacy Office (see our contact information on this page).

Online

 Chrome users: Your PDF viewer must be Adobe Reader. To enable Adobe Reader, enter chrome://plugins in the address bar and click Enable in the entry for Adobe Reader. Don’t see it listed? Install Adobe Reader

Make your request online

Mail or fax

Complete and print the form, and send it to the contact information on this page.

2. We acknowledge and review your request

  • We will acknowledge your request within 24 hours of receipt, except on weekends and holidays.
  • The FOI Manager reviews your request, making sure that your request is for information that the City holds, and not some other public body.
  • We may contact you to clarify your request.
  • We will contact you officially, letting you know when you can expect to have your request fulfilled. The Act requires us the City to respond to your FOI request within 30 days of receiving it. If your request is complex, we may extend this time within what the Act allows, but will inform you of this within the 30 days.
  • We contact the appropriate department managers to inform them of your request.

3. We estimate the time and possible fees needed to fulfill your request

  • You will NOT be charged for access to your own personal information or for the first three hours spent locating and retrieving records.
  • If it will take longer than three hours to retrieve the records you requested and prepare them, we will prepare and send you an estimate invoice.
  • You must pay a 50% deposit of the estimate invoice before the appropriate department continues with your request. Or, you may choose to revise your request to reduce the time it will take to complete it.
  • Be green and get your requested information electronically to avoid fees to prepare and photocopy records.
 Service Fee
 Locate, retrieve, produce, and prepare records $7.50/15 minutes ($30.00/hour)
 Photocopy records (in black and white) $0.25/copy

4. We gather the information

  • Department staff assigned to your request search for and gather all the records related to your request, and send them to the FOI office.
  • If your request asks for a large number of records or for third-party records, we may take up to 60 days to respond and will inform you of this extension.

5. We review the information for privacy concerns

  • We review the records and withhold any information would be an invasion of privacy or cause harm by one of the means listed in the Act.
  • If a record has information we cannot provide, we cover that information with a gray box, and mark it with the relevant section(s) of the Act that explains why we withheld the information.
  • If a record has several sections of information we cannot provide, we may refuse access to that entire record.

6. We send you the information

  • We prepare our final response package with your requested information and send it to you.

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2. TEMPLATE FROM CITYHALLWATCH

Besides the standard form offered by the City, we have also successfully used this format for e-mailed FOI queries.

City of Vancouver
E-mail: foi@vancouver.ca

This is a specific information request made under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Please provide me with ________________________.

I have reason to believe that the information I seek might not be made available through routine release upon informal request.

If fees are involved, I understand I will be given an estimate before any charges are incurred. Should such circumstances arise, I would request a fee waiver, as the information sought from these records relates to a matter of public interest.

Sincerely yours,

Name, address, telephone

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3. TIPS FROM CITYHALLWATCH

  1. Sometimes you may get an answer quickly. But on the other hand, you might not an answer for 45 days or more. The City will likely respond initially telling you it has 30 business days to provide a response. It may, however, refuse your request outright. It might also ask for extra time after the 30 business days. Sometimes you will get an answer in the allotted time. If the end of the 30 business day period is approaching and have not received a response, you might consider sending a friendly reminder e-mail. If they don’t release the information in due time, then you can make a complaint to the Office of the B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner (OPIC).
  2. Think carefully about the time period, and scope of your request. Too narrow and you may miss something important. To wide, and you may get a flood of useless information, delay the response, or get rejected, or be told it will cost you money.
  3. We welcome other tips from people. Send to citizenYVR@gmail.com

 

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