Freedom of Information (FOI) request
Governments regulate pollutants and what companies can do – read more about what each level of government does. Much of this information is available publicly, however sometimes, the public must file a Freedom of Information request, also known as an FOI.
File the FOI directly with the Government Ministry or Agency that has the information you want, for example the Ministry of Environment, or Natural Resources, or to your municipality. The Provincial website outlines some key steps here – including a directory of what institutions you can submit an FOI to and the types of records each holds.
The Toronto Atlantic Packaging GNC filed an FOI with the City of Toronto to find out what odour complaints and reports through the water department were on the City record. The group also filed an FOI to the MOE to find out how many odour and noise complaints and emission reports had been made about the company.
The FOI can also be used to see a record of past complaints, pollution and spill events called ‘Incident reports’, violations of their Environmental Approvals or orders against the facility to upgrade their pollution controls.
Filing an FOI with the MOE
The MOE FOI form requires that you identify the years and information you are seeking:
- Request Parameters: Provide as much detail as you can on location, including previous municipality names and previous owners
- Search Parameters: Identify what you’re seeking – Environmental Concerns (General correspondence, occurrence reports), Orders, Spills, Investigations & Prosecutions
- Certificates of Approval: Identify the years for company activities related to Air- emissions, Water, Wastewater and Waste sites. You can also request the Supporting Documents provided by the proponent when they applied for the approval.
Neighbours of a Toronto crematorium wanted to find out about the types of air emissions that the community was exposed to. When they couldn’t find enough information publicly available, a group of residents filed an FOI with the MOE to find the details about emissions and pollution controls in place at the crematorium.
- An FOI may not provide a complete picture – you may have to submit multiple FOIs to different departments or regulators to get the information you want.
- You must receive a response within 30 days, and you may get a response saying that no documents were found, or that you aren’t permitted to see some information for privacy or propietary reasons. If this is the case, you can appeal the FOI response.
- If you are unsure about how to file a request, you can contact the FOI Coordinator for each agency to discuss your information needs and how best to file the request. (They may also be able to tell you if information is available without filing a request). See the list of agencies in Ontario required to respond to FOI requests, and the appropriate contact at each agency.
- Filing a FOI costs money – $5.00 for the request, plus $30/hr for searching and preparation, $0.20 / page for copying and the cost for delivery. The cost can go up as you search further back and staff need to review historical paper documents.
- Once you’ve made the request, you’ll receive a response outlining the amount and type of documents found, and the estimated total cost to receive the documents. At this point you can select and identify the information you want and only pay for that.
- If you’re able to review or inspect the information on-site, you can save on the cost of copying and delivery, and weed out the information you don’t want.
- Bring a scanner or a camera to take photos of documents you don’t want to pay for. Scanning to text is a helpful tip so that your document is searchable on the computer.
- How to Make an FOI Request – a general guide for FOI requests to any Provincial government office, agency or municipality
- About the Freedom of Information Act – Ministry of Government Services
- Accessing Public Information - a guide about your right to information, and appealing a rejected FOI request from the Information and Privacy Commissioner
- Make an FOI request to the MOE – an MOE guide
- City of Toronto – FOI requests
- City of Hamilton – FOI requests
Read more about Resources to Research Pollution and other sources of data such as the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI), and Ontario Environmental Registry.Read more about: Pollution Research, Resources