Access to Information (Fact Sheet)

 Access to Information (PDF, 242 KB)

Queen’s University is subject to Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). FIPPA provides that every person has a right of access to a record in the custody or under the control of the University, subject to certain limited and specific exemptions. This fact sheet outlines implications of “access to information” for Queen’s employees

What is a record under FIPPA?

A record is anything that can be read, viewed, or listened to at a later date, however made, including:

  • anything on paper (written, typed, printed, drawn, etc.)
  • email, and all digital files
  • any audio or video recording
  • any duplicates of a record

FIPPA defines a record as:

"any record of information, in all formats and media, including correspondence, memoranda, books, plans, maps, drawings, diagrams, pictorial or graphic works, photographs, films and microfilms, sound recordings, videotapes, machine readable records, any other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, and any copy thereof".

What is not a record under FIPPA?

Certain records are excluded from the scope of the FIPPA, meaning that they cannot be requested through an Access to Information request. Such records include:

  • records about or associated with research
  • records of teaching materials
  • labour relations and employment-related records, with limited exceptions
  • private (non-University) donations to the University Archives

How are access requests made?

Any person can request:

  • access to any university record
  • access to a university record containing personal information about themselves

The right of access may be subject to a fee payment for specific services

  • $5.00 application fee
  • fees for search time, photocopying, severing, developing a computer program to produce a record

Units holding responsive records will be asked to search for and produce copies of records for review by the Records Management and Privacy Office. The University must provide a decision within 30 calendar days.

What are the exemptions?

Some records are exempted from disclosure and either must not or may not be released under FIPPA. Some key areas are:

  • personal information of another individual
  • third party information (trade secret or scientific, technical, commercial, financial or labour relations information) AND supplied in confidence AND if disclosed could result in harm
  • law enforcement: where disclosure could interfere with an investigation
  • solicitor-client privilege
  • economic interests: financial, commercial, scientific or technical information belonging to the University with monetary value
  • institutional plans or positions that have not yet been put into place or made public
  • educational tests, testing procedures or techniques, if disclosed could prejudice the use or result
  • danger to health or safety: information that could reasonably be expected to seriously threaten the safety or health of an individual
  • information soon to be published

 Right of appeal: Anyone has a right to appeal the University's decision to Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner

What does FIPPA mean for Queen's employees?

Records you create and receive, including email, may be the subject of an Access to Information request. So:

1) Create records with access in mind

  • Be sure to document decisions taken or transactions made, but avoid unnecessary detail.
  • Use a professional tone. Records should be factual and objective (unless an opinion is required), and should include only what is relevant.
  • If possible, proactively post non-sensitive records on a University website (e.g., statistical reports).

2) Organize records and file in a recordkeeping system

If your records are subject to an Access to Information request, you will be given a narrow timeframe to search for, and produce, those records. Following some basic recordkeeping practices, such as having a file classification plan and filing your records regularly into a recordkeeping system, will make searching for records fast and easy. Follow records retention schedules and routinely dispose of Transitory Records.

 Remember, if a file becomes the subject of an Access to Information request, all records associated with that file must be retained until the request is completed.