Human Impact and the Right to Know

“What records do you want to access?” Asks the ‘FOIP: Request to Access Information’ form found here.

The ultimate question is whether a reasonable person would be able to retrieve a  record after reviewing the specific details provided in the request.

In 2018, I was a member of the public at a Right to Know forum, hosted by the OIPC in Edmonton, if you haven’t been, I encourage you to learn more at here

It was there that I gathered that the receivers and requesters of access requests are equally frustrated, as the right to know is deeply embedded in the right to protect personal privacy. The Right to Know forum’s purpose is to raise awareness about the right to access public information being essential to both democracy and good governance. During the panel discussion, Jennie Russell, an investigative reporter with CBC Edmonton, reminded the audience that, even with the right to know, locating and gathering responsive records creates a human impact.

It is a person that receives the request details provided by the applicant, determines whether and how their request meets requirements, and acts accordingly based on steps and guidelines outlined in legislation and regulations.

It is also a person that determines if a fee is applicable and calculates costs. Upon receipt of fees paid in full, it is a person that begins the process of information gathering.

Information comes in many forms, from many sources, and a person follows these trails looking for responsive information, determines what can be shared, and then must collect the information within the legislated time frame, sometimes causing further human impact. A person then provides the applicant with the appropriate collected documents, with future impact unknown.

The onus is on the requester to make sure that the request is not ambiguous. Public bodies must, at the very least, make reasonable efforts to locate information and respond to the applicant within the specified time period.

Government is fundamentally about people interacting with people. The idea of legislation is to provide the rules for that interaction. Sometimes it works well, and sometimes the interaction can be frustrating.

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