Responding to requests for information under the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act
This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by IRCC staff. It is posted on the department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.
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- Members of Parliament
- Exempt information
- Responding to requests for information: Access to Information Act
Under the Privacy Act, Canadian citizens, permanent residents and all other persons present in Canada have a right to access their personal information held by a government institution.
The purpose of the Privacy Act is to protect the privacy of individuals with respect to personal information about themselves held by a government institution and to provide individuals with the right to access that information. A privacy request must be completed within 30 calendar days from the date of receipt. However, this time limit can be extended for limited and specific reasons as defined in the Privacy Act. There are no fees pursuant to the Privacy Act.
Requests for personal information submitted pursuant to the Privacy Act should contain enough information for the officer to locate the requested information.
This normally includes
- full name (including any aliases)
- date of birth
- immigration or visa file number
- unique client identifier (UCI) number
The request should also indicate specifically the information being sought by the client (that is, visa file, immigration file, medical file, citizenship file). Written consent to disclose information is required from the requestor and any persons who may have information on the file. At IRCC, consent allows the release of information to persons 16 years of age and older.
Clients may authorize the release of personal information to a representative. The representative must be a Canadian citizen, a permanent resident or an individual present in Canada. Before releasing personal information, officers should confirm the identity of the requesters, as well as the authorization to release personal information to them. Personal information includes any information on or about a client of the department that is recorded in any form. It also includes confirmation of the existence of a client’s file or record.
Information should not be released outside the official correspondence related to the application. For example, if the client requests a copy of the officers’ notes after the refusal, they must submit an access to information and privacy (ATIP) request for those records.
Officers may disclose personal information by fax, email or telephone, subject to security guidelines. Officers should ensure they are disclosing information to the person authorized to receive that personal information.
Members of Parliament
Paragraph 8(2)(g) of the Privacy Act permits a government institution to disclose personal information “to a Member of Parliament (MP) for the purpose of assisting the individual to whom the information relates in resolving a problem” without the written consent of the individual. As such, IRCC offices are authorized to respond to MPs about an individual’s application.
MPs are sitting members of the House of Commons or Senate. This discretionary privilege is not granted to provincial Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs), Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) in Quebec and Members of Provincial Parliaments (MPPs).
MPs usually delegate constituency business to constituency assistants. These assistants request personal information on behalf of MPs. Officers may release personal information to constituency assistants provided it is clear that MPs have designated them for this purpose. As with written requests, email requests for personal information on the letterhead of an MP or from the MP’s email address, signed by constituency assistants, do not pose a problem. The written reply will simply be addressed to the MP and sent to their official email address. Replies should not be sent to a private email address.
To ensure the proper protection of private information, requests from MPs should normally be handled in writing. However, officers may release personal information to constituency assistants over the telephone if MPs have designated them for this purpose. In these cases, to ensure proper identification and compliance with the Privacy Act, assistants should submit their requests for information in writing, by email or by fax requesting that the officer call them. This will ensure that the officer can confirm the identity of the assistant when returning the call.
When an MP has resigned or passed away, their seat becomes vacant, awaiting a by-election. In this case, the constituency office is kept open and the party whip is responsible for services to constituents until a by-election has been held. Officers can answer requests from the constituency office since the whip (an MP) is responsible for the office’s staff.
In the case of an independent MP or following a contested election, the Speaker of the House of Commons becomes responsible for services to constituents until a new MP is elected. Officers can answer requests in these cases as well. When Parliament is dissolved, personal information about other individuals cannot be given to MPs unless authorized by the Minister. The Minister will make a decision regarding the release of information when each Parliament approaches the end of its allotted time and dissolution appears imminent. Appropriate directions will be issued to officers as necessary. While the Privacy Act allows departments to disclose personal information to MPs to help resolve a constituent’s problem, MPs have no special access rights to other individuals’ records.
Officers are not to enter into policy discussions, program design or broad operational topics in letters to MPs. Subjects such as anti-fraud practices, processing priorities or quality assurance should not be discussed in a letter. It is the Minister who is accountable to Parliament for such matters. Consequently, officers should suggest to MPs asking questions related to policy or general procedures to submit them to the Minister’s office. In brief, information given to MPs by officers should be related only to a specific application.
Time frame for responses to parliamentarians
The standard for replies to MP enquiries is one week (or 5 working days). Where a substantive reply within one week is not possible, the MP’s office should be advised within one week of receipt of the enquiry that a reply will be provided shortly and by a specific date. Such delays should be exceptional and short. Ideally, MPs should receive a response within 2 working days.
Migration program managers are responsible for either preparing replies to MPs personally or closely and regularly monitoring replies sent by their office for both quality and timeliness. Migration offices must reply to all MP requests.
Only the Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Division has the authority to exempt from release information requested under the Privacy Act or the Access to Information Act. The exempted information may make up the entire record or just a portion of it. If IRCC or the migration office believes that certain information should not be released, it should provide a copy of the information along with an explanation as to why it should be exempt from release to the ATIP Division.
Responding to requests for information: Access to Information Act
Under the Access to Information Act, Canadian citizens, permanent residents and all other individuals or corporations present in Canada have a right of access to any information held by a government institution, regardless of its source, subject to exclusions and exemptions as described in the Access to Information Act. Whereas the Privacy Act is limited to providing access to personal information only, requests under the Access to Information Act may be about anything, including records on non-case files.
Clients who are outside Canada, and who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents, must have a representative in Canada submit a request on their behalf pursuant to the Access to Information Act. Appropriate authorizations to disclose information to the representative must be provided.
All requests under this Act must be submitted to the ATIP Division. Only senior officials at the ATIP Division have the delegated authority to release and exempt information pursuant to this Act. There is a CAN$5.00 application fee (payable by cheque or money order to the Receiver General for Canada). All requests for information pursuant to the Access to Information Act must be responded to within 30 days. However, this time limit can be extended for limited and specific reasons as defined in the Access to Information Act.
If an IRCC or migration office receives a request for information from ATIP Division, officers should respond immediately.
The records and the recommendations should be scanned and uploaded to the Global Case Management System (GCMS). The ATIP Division will only accept paper records in certain circumstances. Contact the ATIP Division to determine the best approach for paper records.
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