Responding to access to information requests during an election
As Saskatchewan prepares for both a provincial and municipal election this fall, it is a good time to remind everyone about their obligations under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP), The Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (LA FOIP) and The Health Information Protection Act (HIPA). This includes the importance of responding to access to information requests during election periods.
Civil servants can be nervous about responding to access to information requests during the writ period, especially requests that may relate to “hot topic” issues. Our office also recognizes that there are specific communication directives during the writ period that civil servants must follow.
However, during the writ period, your obligations under FOIP, LA FOIP and HIPA do not change.
Public bodies and trustees must respond to formal access to information requests during a writ period as they would any other time during the year. This means, you must respond to the request in writing within 30 days of receiving the request. You may extend the response time an additional 30 days only if a limited and specific circumstance exists as provided for in section 12 of FOIP, section 12 of LA FOIP and section 37 of HIPA. One of the reasons to extend a response time does not include a provision that covers elections or the writ period.
So, before the writ drops, our office would suggest having these internal conversations about FOIP, LA FOIP and HIPA obligations. That way, if you receive a “hot topic” request during the writ period, everyone is on the same page and you can carry on business as usual with your day to day FOIP, LA FOIP and HIPA obligations – before, during and after an election.
For further background, please see Review Report 064-2016 to 076-2016 where the Information and Privacy Commissioner, in part, looked at the issue of responding to access to information requests during an election.