Casual Legal: Requests for information & FOIP Act

By Lauren Chalaturnyk
Reynolds Mirth Richards Farmer LLP
Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Service Provider

Municipalities, as public bodies, are subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP Act). The FOIP Act aims to strike a balance between the public’s right to know and an individual’s right to privacy, as these rights relate to information held by public-sector bodies in Alberta. 

Whenever a municipality receives a request for information, it can be a daunting task for public servants to wade through the timelines, procedures, and requirements of the FOIP Act.

The first step is to determine if a request for information actually falls under the FOIP Act. If a municipality receives a request in writing (in an email, on a prescribed form, or in some other form of correspondence) for information in its possession and the request contains enough detail to enable the municipality to identify the information requested, this is considered a FOIP request.

Once a request is received, the municipality must determine whether a fee should be charged. In most cases, an initial fee of $25 will apply. If a larger fee is going to be charged, the applicant must be provided with an estimate and must agree to the charges before the FOIP request is processed. Once all or a portion of the fee is paid, having regard to the FOIP Regulation, the timeline for the municipality to respond to the FOIP request starts.

In most cases, the municipality has 30 days to respond to a FOIP request. This time limit can be extended an additional 30 days, as long as the municipality provides reasons for the extension to the applicant. Further extensions may also be requested from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC).

To process a FOIP request, the municipality should complete the following steps:

  • Step 1: Gather all records that are responsive to the request.
  • Step 2: Determine whether an exception to disclosure under the FOIP Act applies to all or a portion of the records gathered – some common exceptions include: personal information (section 17 of the FOIP Act); local public body confidences (section 23 of the FOIP Act); advice from officials (section 24 of the FOIP Act); and privileged information (section 27 of the FOIP Act).
  • Step 3: If the interests of a third party are engaged, notice must be provided to the third party and they must be given an opportunity to provide a response to the municipality regarding the disclosure.
  • Step 4: Once any third party notice is received and the municipality has reviewed the records, it can decide whether to disclose them. If it withholds or redacts any information, it must indicate on the record or in a covering letter the specific exception under the FOIP Act that it believes applies.

Following the processing of a FOIP request and at various stages throughout the process, an applicant or third party, as the case may be, has the ability to request a review or inquiry by the OIPC. A request for review or inquiry at the OIPC has the effect of pausing the processing of the FOIP request until a final decision is made, which can take several years.

To access Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Helpline, Alberta Municipalities members can call toll-free to 1-800-661-7673 or send an casuallegal [at] (email) to reach the municipal legal experts at Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP. For more information on the Casual Legal Service, please call 310-MUNI (6864) or send an riskcontrol [at] (email) to speak to Alberta Municipalities Risk Management staff. Any Regular or Associate member of Alberta Municipalities can access the Casual Legal Service.

DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.