Access to Information requests are requests to information that the government has that isn’t accessible to the public. Information on studies conducted, video/audio from prisons incidents and even text messages from officials that relates to the request.
Huge news stories have been broke using this method to collect information. Ashley Smith ‘s story about how prison staff stood outside her cell as she hung herself on video got released using an access to information request. The Rob Ford Crack video finally got released to the public using an access to information request and the RCMP disciplinary scandal just broke out thanks to a request.
Access to information request can be critical to reporting but sadly, not all journalist use them or know how to use them. The requests can feel intimidating due to there formal feel and fear of messing up. To help get you started if you want to make one or are just curious, here are a few pointers
1.Fill in ALL the Blanks
This one should be obvious but access for information request can take a long time to fill out (weeks to months) so it is very important you don’t mess up the form to begin with. Double check your request before submitting to ensure all the blanks are filled and you detailed what you want.
To get the most out of your request you need to be very specific with what information you want. You can’t just put everything about nuclear power plants in Canada. Start with what you want to know, for example, studies conducted on the risks of living near a power plant. From there you should include possible text messages, emails, video and audio related to that study to cover your bases. The more specific you can be the more likely the request will be filled.
3. Know Where to Go
When requesting information it’s important to know where the information is. There are many branches of committees in every level of the government that cover different issues and have different information. You need to know what level of government you need and what committees to get the information you want.
For more information of Access to Information requests and how to do them in Canada you can just follow this link to the Government of Canada’s website