Obtaining Government Consultation Records


Obtaining Government Consultation Records

Submitting a freedom of information request (or a federal access to information request) to obtain government consultation records can be a daunting proposition, especially if you’ve never submitted one before. As many First Nations and Indigenous governments have noted, there are also a number of serious issues with access to information and privacy legislation in Canada. In particular, federal and provincial governments retain significant discretion to determine what and how much information to disclose in response to a request — even when that information is critical for Indigenous groups seeking to right historical wrongs committed in the process of colonization. However flawed the system may be, here are some valuable insights that might simplify the process and lead to better, faster results.

First, try to determine what information you would like to obtain. This may seem counterintuitive, but focusing in on the scope of records you are interested in will greatly benefit the person inevitably tasked with searching for those records. Consider the name or the file number of the project you’re interested in, your timeline of interest, a particular geographical region or the names of any other parties involved. Being precise may result in a quicker and more accurate response. It may also reduce costs, as additional processing fees can apply if the request leads to an overly large or complex disclosure.

Once you’ve got an idea of the kinds of records that you may be requesting, it may be tempting to jump right into the freedom of information request process, but you may save yourself plenty of time and energy by taking two additional steps first:

Research published freedom of information requests. The B.C. and federal governments publish submitted freedom of information requests as well as the disclosures made pursuant to those requests in online databases. If someone has already made a freedom of information request that covers the material that you are interested in, you may not need to proceed with making your own request. Reviewing past requests may also help uncover the contact information for people who may be able to assist with your search.

Reach out to the government ministry or Crown corporation that might have access to these records. Different ministries and Crown corporations take different approaches to dealing with informal information requests, but these requests can often lead to prompt disclosure of relevant information without having to resort to the formal freedom of information request process.

If after taking these steps you conclude that making a freedom of information request is still necessary, the online freedom of information request database may still be helpful as a repository for precedent requests.

Before submitting a freedom of information request, you may want to check to ensure that the information you are seeking is not excluded under legislation. There are few exclusions to the types of materials the government is required to provide pursuant to a freedom of information request, but you don’t want to go through the freedom of information request process only to learn that the information you’re seeking cannot be provided to you! For example, court records and communications or draft decisions of a person acting in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity are exempt from freedom of information requests.

A formal freedom of information request can be submitted online from the British Columbia or Government of Canada websites. The online form walks you through the requirements step by step and provides some guidance along the way. Despite its issues, freedom of information requests remain an important source of information for First Nations and other groups who may seek government consultation records.