How we investigate

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The Access to Information Act gives Canadians the right to request information from federal institutions.

If you submitted a request for information to a federal institution under the Act and you are not satisfied with how it was processed, you may complain to us. You must file your complaint within 60 days of receiving a response from the institution.


Our commitment to complainants:

  • We deal with complaints professionally, efficiently and impartially.
  • We keep complainants informed of the progress and outcome of investigations. 
  • We provide clear reasons for our recommendations.

How we investigate

Administrative complaints

We assign your complaint to an investigator. The investigator reviews the complaint and related records, and communicates with you and the institution to explore possible ways to resolve the matter.

Response already sent to requester

If the institution has already responded to your request when we start the investigation, it must send  us a copy of its response to you. We review the response, confirming that it was sent, and close the investigation as resolved.

Response not sent to requester but time extension claimed or 30-day timeframe to respond has not yet elapsed

In these cases, the institution must send us all relevant documentation and its position on the matter to justify the validity of the extension or that the 30-day timeframe has not elapsed.

We find time extensions to be valid in the following circumstances:

  • The institution notified you about the extension within the first 30 days after receiving the request.
  • The institution satisfied all of the criteria set out in the extension provision of the Act (section 9).
  • The length of the extension is reasonable given the circumstances and context of the request, and meets the standards set out in Information Commissioner of Canada v. Minister of National Defence, 2015 FCA 56.

When the institution has satisfied these criteria, we close the investigation as not well-founded and send a report to you and the institution.

When the institution has not met these criteria, we find the time extensions to be in invalid and request a new response date from the institution. We then assess the reasonableness of this date, in consultation with the complainant. We may close the investigation as resolved when the disclosure date is reasonable or the complainant receives a response before we have fully investigated the delay. When the disclosure date is not reasonable we may attempt to negotiate a new date and/or close the investigation as well-founded.

Response not sent to requester

When an institution acknowledges that it has not sent a response and that it is in deemed refusal, the institution must send us all relevant documentation, written reasons for the delay and a date for disclosure. Our investigation may be concluded as resolved when the disclosure date is reasonable or the complainant receives a response before the delay has been fully investigated. When the date it not reasonable, we may attempt to negotiate an earlier date and/or close the complaint as well-founded.

Refusal complaints

Early intervention stage

A member of our early intervention team reviews the complaint and related records, and communicates with you and the institution to explore possible ways to resolve the matter or to narrow the issues in dispute.

Refusal investigation stage

When a complaint cannot be resolved at the early intervention stage, an investigator does a preliminary review of the file, and contacts you to discuss the outstanding issues.


The investigator then contacts the institution to obtain its position on the matter.

The investigator reviews the relevant documentation to analyze the issues, and asks specific questions about the institution’s decisions.

The investigator’s review is based on the rationale the institution provided. When the institution does not provide a rationale, the investigator conducts their review based solely on the exemptions claimed and on what information has been redacted (blacked out).

The investigator then completes the exemption analysis worksheet. It sets out questions for the institution based on specific instances in which we are not satisfied that the institution properly applied the exemption. The worksheet clearly sets out the date on which the institution must submit its answers to us.

Information obtained from the institution, complainant and other parties during investigations is subject to the confidentiality provisions of the Access to Information Act. The investigator must ask permission to share information the parties provide about the matter in question (known as representations) between the parties in order to facilitate negotiation.

Exclusion complaints

We conduct exclusion complaints in much the same way as those for exemptions. However, we may not review records that contain information related to deliberations and decisions by the federal Cabinet (known as Cabinet confidences). In these cases, we review all information the parties provide about the matter in question (known as representations), as well as the documents associated with the institutions' processing of records, a severed copy of the records, and a letter from the institution’s Access to Information and Privacy Coordinator that describes the excluded information and the conclusion of consultations with their departmental legal services unit about the records. When the institution consulted the Office of the Counsel to the Clerk of the Privy Council about the records, it must provide us with the schedules the institution and the Office of the Counsel prepared as part of the consultation.

Reasonable search and miscellaneous complaints

The investigator does a preliminary review of the file, and contacts you to discuss the outstanding issues.

The investigator then contacts the institution to obtain its position on the matter.

The investigator reviews the relevant documentation to analyze the issues, and asks specific questions about the institution's decisions

The investigator’s review is based on the rationale the institution provided. When they have not provided a rationale, the investigator conducts their review based solely on the processing documents and knowledge of the institution’s structure and information holdings.

The investigator then completes the reasonable search worksheet. It sets out questions for the institution related to the thoroughness of its search for responsive records. The worksheet clearly sets out the date on which the institution must submit its answers to us.

Information obtained from the institution, complainant and other parties during investigations is subject to the confidentiality provisions of the Access to Information Act. The investigator must ask permission to share this information (known as representations) between the parties in order to facilitate negotiation.

Request for representations

The investigator notifies the institution of the impending delivery of either the exemptions analysis or reasonable search worksheet.

The institution is expected to provide detailed written information about their position on the matters under dispute (known as representations) in the worksheet(s) to explain and justify how it applied the Act.

Complaint resolution

Depending on the response the institution provides to the investigator's questions, one of the following may result:

  • The institution may agree with our assessment, reconsider its position and agree to disclose more records to the complainant.
  • The institution may provide more information about the processing of the requests that satisfies us about the actions the institutions took. In such instances, the investigator informs the complainant that they will be recommending that the Commissioner find the complaint to be not well founded, and gives them a final opportunity to provide any representations that may affect this finding.
  • An institution may disagree with our assessment and provide representations that do not sufficiently address our concerns. In these cases, we will bring the file to the attention of a superior of the institution's Access to Information and Privacy Coordinator who has delegated authority under the Act to submit representations.
  • If, after reviewing the institution’s response, we are not satisfied and no agreement can be reached between the parties, the Commissioner may recommend to the head of the institution (often the deputy minister) that the institution take particular action to resolve the matter, or issue an order to that effect. 

Once all representations have been received from both parties (including final representations from the complainant) and the investigation is concluded, we send the parties a final report.

Once the complainant has received this report, they may apply to the Federal Court of Canada for a review of the institution's decision to deny access, regardless of whether the Commissioner supports the complaint.

Applications to the Federal Court must be made within 45 days of receiving the final report on this investigation.

Code of communications

We are committed to communicating with you in a respectful, professional and civil manner. Similarly, we expect the same courtesy from you.

While understanding that the circumstances or issues you are communicating may be stressful, we will not accept abusive behaviour or communications towards staff, and are required by law to protect our employees from it. Such behaviour includes threats, vexatious or harassing comments or conduct, sexual harassment, intimidation, yelling or screaming, or obscene, racist or discriminatory statements.

Repeated behaviour of this kind may result in our communicating with you only in writing or otherwise restricting future interactions with you.

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