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Access to personal information request revised to accommodate both requestor and organization

Early resolved case summary #2016-01

September 23, 2016

Lessons Learned

  • An organization must respond to an access request at minimal or no cost to the individual.
  • Where possible, flexibility should be shown and alternative solutions should be considered by both requestors and organizations in the fulfillment of an access request.
  • Viewing records for free without also getting free copies of them can meet an organization’s access obligations under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (“PIPEDA”). For further information, consult our guidance document Responding to access to information requested under PIPEDA.

Complaint summary

A new condominium owner attempted to have certain defects in his unit remedied by the condominium developer. After meeting and dealing with different representatives from the organization and being told the defective items would be replaced, the owner was unsatisfied with the progress of the replacements.

He escalated his complaint within the organization and, when this also brought no concrete results, sent a request to the condominium developer’s privacy officer for access to his personal information, pursuant to Principle 4.9 of PIPEDA.

He claimed that he was told that his access request yielded in excess of 1000 pages of documents and that photocopies of these would be subject to a cost of $0.20 per page (not including  taxes), all costs payable by the individual. Only later was he told that he could view them free of charge at the organization’s lawyer’s office, although he still could not get free copies of the documents. The individual considered this response unacceptable ─ i.e., not access at “minimal or no cost” to him, as stipulated in Principle 4.9.4 of PIPEDA.

The individual then filed a complaint with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, seeking access to his personal information in the form of copies for a reasonable fee.


Our Office’s early resolution unit became involved in this case. In discussing the organization’s demand for fees to provide access, the condominium developer instead suggested that the individual could view the entire package of material at its lawyer’s office and select only the pages that interested him. The individual would then be provided with copies of those pages free of charge. The individual replied that, because he had a disability, viewing 1000 pages of documents in an office setting was unreasonable.

As a means to achieve harmonious compromise, our Office proposed to the individual that he reformulate and try to narrow his access request to include only the particular information that he was seeking. The individual accepted our proposal. As a result of the individual’s agreement to narrow the scope of his access request, the organization agreed to provide the individual with free copies of the specific documents containing his personal information.

After receiving this material at no cost and being told that not all actions taken within an organization are necessarily documented, the complainant was ultimately satisfied with the access he received.

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