September 26 to October 2 is Right to Know Week, and September 28 is International Right to Know Day. Find out about your right to access government information under Nova Scotia laws, and learn more about Right to Know Week from Nova Scotia's Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
Access to government records
Governments and public bodies collect and keep a great deal of information. Some of that information relates to private individuals, and some relates to broad public issues.
Access to personal health records is dealt with under a separate law called the Personal Health Information Act (PHIA).
Click here for information about PHIA.
Generally, it is in the public interest that people served by these public bodies have access to the information those bodies hold.
However, sometimes the information held by public bodies includes private information that cannot be disclosed without unreasonably invading the privacy of private individuals. The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPOP-pronounced ‘foypop’), and the Municipal Government Act (MGA), attempt to balance the right to access information, and the need to protect the private information of individuals, businesses and some government information.
This informations provides guidance for using FOIPOP and the MGA to access records held by public bodies, and to correct your personal information.
FOIPOP and the MGA only apply to provincial public bodies and municipalities. Different laws apply if you are trying to get records from a federal public body. Click here for information about access to records from a federal body.
What are FOIPOP and the MGA?
The MGA and FOIPOP are laws which give you the ability to apply to access “records” held by ‘public bodies’.
Click here for contact information for public bodies governed by both FOIPOP and the MGA.
Public bodies include:
- provincial government departments, agencies, boards, and commissions;
- municipalities, towns and villages;
- municipal police and fire departments;
- school boards;
- health authorities;
- community colleges and universities.
If you want to access records held by a municipal body (such as a municipality, town, village or police service) you will be using the MGA. If you want to access information from a provincial public body, you will be using FOIPOP. In either case the process is the same, and the fees charged are the same.
FOIPOP and the MGA only apply to provincial public bodies, governments, and municipalities, they do not apply to federal public bodies.
What are 'records'?
FOIPOP defines records to include anything on which information is recorded or stored. This includes:
- electronic records.
Who has the records?
The first step is to determine which organization has the records you want to see.
The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Nova Scotia ("OIPC"), also known as the Review Office, has contact information for the various bodies governed by FOIPOP and the MGA on their website. Click here to see that information.
Alternatively, you may contact Nova Scotia’s Information Access and Privacy Services.
What information do you want?
Depending on the type of record you are trying to access you may not need to make a formal request. Some public bodies routinely release information, through a “Routine Access” policy (click here to see an example). It is worth contacting the public body directly first to find out if the record you want will be released without requiring a formal request.
However, if you are trying to get records that contain personal information, you will likely have to make a formal request.
Formal requests under FOIPOP
Formal FOIPOP requests must be:
Personal information is information about you, like:
- your health care history;
- your financial, criminal or employment history;
- your family status;
- another person’s opinions about you.
- in writing
- specific enough to allow the person responding to the request to identify the record
- accompanied by a $5 application fee. You can contact the public body you are requesting the information from to find out who you should make the cheque out to. You do not have to pay a $5 application fee if you are requesting your own personal information.
You can find pdf and word versions of request forms here. You do not have to use these forms but they may be helpful.
How much does it cost?
When you make an information request, other than your personal information, you may be required to pay fees in addition to the $5 application fee. You may be required to pay for the cost of:
- locating, retrieving and producing the information
- preparing the record for disclosure
- photocopying, shipping and handling the record.
You do not have to pay any fees to access your personal information.
The table below explains the fees that public bodies may charge for preparing the records you request.
|Type of Record||Application Fee||First 2 hours of work||Photocopying||Per 30 minutes of time spent|
The public body must give you an estimate of the total costs before doing the work. You can ask the public body to waive the fee:
- if you cannot afford the fee;
- if the records relate to a public interest issue, such as the environment or health and safety; or
- for any other reason it is fair to do so.
If you think the fee is too high, you have the right to request a review by the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Nova Scotia (IPC), referred to as the "Review Officer" in the Acts. You must request a review within 60 days. Or you could decide to narrow your scope and request fewer records.
How long will it take?
Once a public body has received your request they have 30 days to respond. However, this 30 day period may be extended if:
- your request was not detailed enough
- you requested a large number of records, or a large number of records must be searched to find your records
- the public body needs more time to consult with another public body or a third party.
You must be informed if a public body has sought to extend the 30 day time period. If, by the end of 30 days the public body has not informed you of an extension, or responded to your request, you may treat that as a refusal to provide the records and you can request a review by the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Nova Scotia.
What kind of response will I get to my information request?
Generally there are three types of responses:
- You may get all the information you requested
- You may get part of the information you requested,
- You may get none of the information you requested.
If a public body has not released some, or all of the records you requested, it must tell you why in writing.
Is there information that a public body does not have to disclose under FOIPOP?
Yes. FOIPOP provides that certain types of information may not have to be disclosed. For example, you may be refused access to information that:
- is subject to lawyer-client privilege;
- is about another person;
- is about a business;
- could harm law enforcement;
- could harm the economic or financial interests of a public body, other individuals, or the public;
- could harm an individual’s or the public’s safety;
- could harm conservation efforts.
Also, some types of records are not available under the Act. For example:
Correcting information about you held by a public body
FOIPOP also allows you to correct personal information a public body has about you.
FOIPOP allows you to apply to correct your personal information held by a public body. If your correction request is refused the public body must note that in the record. If you are not satisfied, you may request that Nova Scotia's Information and Privacy Commissioner review the refusal.
If you believe the personal information a public body has about you is incorrect you may request that the public body correct it. A simple form to request correction of personal information can be found here. There is no charge for requesting the correction of your personal information.
If a public body refuses to correct your personal information you may apply to the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Nova Scotia (IPC) for a review of the decision. You must request a review of a decision of a public body within 60 days of receiving the decision. The IPC has discretion to extend the 60 day deadline in some situations, so it is best to contact the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner to discuss your situation even if you have missed the review deadline.
What if I don’t agree with the response I get?
If you get a decision from a public body which you do not agree with you may ask the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Nova Scotia (IPC) to review the decision. You can find out more about the Information and Privacy Commissioner here.
You must request a review within 60 days of receiving the decision of the public body. The IPC does have discretion to extend the 60 day deadline in some situations, so it is best to contact the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner to discuss your situation even if you have missed the review deadline.
You may request that the IPC review:
- A fee estimate;
- A timeline extension, or failure to respond within the 30 day time limit;
- A refusal or partial refusal to provide the records you requested;
- A refusal to correct of your record.
To request a review you must inform the IPC of your request. You can either use a form or write a letter. Be sure to include:
- the name of the public body, and the date of the decision;
- copy of the public body’s decision;
- if available, a copy of your original access request;
- your address and telephone number.
You may also appeal the decision of a public body to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. However, you must do so within 30 days of receiving the decision. Appealing to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia is more complicated. You may need to pay court fees and other costs and other factors may need to be considered. It is a good idea to consult a lawyer if you wish to appeal to the Supreme Court.
For more information
Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, also known as the Review Office:
Phone: (902) 424-4684
No Charge-Dial: 1-866-243-1564
The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Nova Scotia also has a "Mini-Guide to Access under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in Nova Scotia", which is available online at: foipop.ns.ca/publictools
Nova Scotia Information Access & Privacy Services (IAP):
Department of Internal Services
PO Box 72, Halifax Central, B3J 2L4
11th. floor, Royal Centre
5161 George Street
Halifax, NS B3J 1M7
Phone: (902) 424-2985 or 844-424-2985
Last updated: December 2015