Your ticket to searching

requests made under

Canada's Access to

Information Law


Digging Deeper -- A Canadian Reporter's Research Guide, from Oxford University Press. Order it now at

Digging Deeper

A comprehensive guide to investigative journalism, research techniques, Digging Deeper also contains a chapter on using access-to-information and freedom-of-information laws, as well as an introduction to computer-assisted reporting. David McKie is one of the co-authors.

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Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Comprehensive Primer is a valuable book for anyone who wants to improve their research capabilities on the Internet, learn how to use a spreadsheet or database manager to crunch numbers that can lead to stories, or learn many other advanced research techniques.

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Brokering Access: Power, Politics, and Freedom of Information Process in Canada


David McKie, CBC Investigative Unit
Phone: (O) 288-6523 (C) 290-7380

About the author of this page. David McKie is an award-winning journalist who is a member of the CBC's investigative unit. David uses access to information for many of his stories, including a series on adverse drug reactions and their affects on children ( ) and seniors ( He teaches computer assisted reporting and research techniques at Carleton University's school of journalism. You'll find his research techniques syllabus at: David also trains journalists within the CBC to use the federal Access to Information Law and the provincial freedom of information laws.

Please read on for further information about the page the service it provides to journalists and researchers.

Search a database of requests submitted under Canada's Access to Information Act

This page allows you to search a database of requests for information filed with departments and agencies of the Canadian government under Canada's Access to Information Act You can use this database to identify requests that relate to your own research interests. Next, you can contact departments and agencies to obtain records already made public in response to those requests.

To use the database, follow the instructions provided below. If you experience difficulties, please contact David McKie.

Where does this data come from? [Top]

The information in this database was entered by federal institutions into the Coordination of Access to Information Requests System (CAIRS), a software program maintained by the Department of Public Works and Government Services.

Monthly reports from the CAIRS database are obtained from Treasury Board Secretariat, another agency of the Canadian government, by Access to Information Act requests.

How to use this database [Top]

Enter keywords relating to your research into the search engine (below). The search engine will retrieve pages that contain your keywords. Each page consists of a monthly report generated by the CAIRS database. Click on each retrieved page and repeat your search using your browser's search feature. Some monthly reports are large and load slowly.

When you've located a relevant request, note the institutional code and the file number. Use the table of institutional codes at the back of this document to identify the institution that received the request.

Use this directory of departmental ATIA coordinators to find contact information for that institution.

Contact the coordinator's office to ask whether records have been released in response to that request. If so, make a written request for a copy of "all records reviewed" for that earlier request. (The wording is important: this clarifies your right to appeal with regard to the use of exemptions or exclusions.) You will be asked to pay a five dollar application fee, and possibly a charge for photocopying the records.

Limitations of the database [Top]

The Harper government no longer maintains a CAIRS system. So this database only goes to Oct. 2008. The Information Commissioner's Office is attempting to either convince the government to revise the system, or devise another method of making this kind of information more accessible. Given the limitations of this database, it is still a valuable resource for records dating back several years.

Some large departments did not enter all requests which they have received into CAIRS. Consequently you should not assume that this is a comprehensive list of federal ATIA requests. And when CAIRS was in operation, several government institutions, including Crown corporations such as the CBC, were exempt from the Access to Information Law.


Search this database [Top]

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News about this database [Top]

April 2001: The Canadian government releases documents that explain the public access features of its new CAIRSWeb software. The public access features have not been activated.

May 2003: On May 1, 2003, Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski provided a letter summarizing his investigation regarding the distribution of personal information through the CAIRS database. His letter can be downloaded here.

December 16, 2003: Treasury Board Secretariat issues an information notice to government departments to clarify their obligations under the Official Languages Act with respect to ATIA requests entered into the CAIR System.

July 30, 2004: Treasury Board Secretariat stops issuing monthly CAIRS reports as searchable text files. A complaint has been made to the Information Commissioner of Canada.

August 25, 2004: On August 23, Treasury Board Secretariat reversed its July 30 decision and resumed providing CAIRS data in usable electronic form.

October 6, 2004: The Information Commissioner rules that Treasury Board Secretariat should provide direct public access to the CAIRS database. Treasury Board Secretariat refuses to comply with the decision. Read the excerpt from the Commissioner's Annual Report.

October 31, 2004. Research note on Treasury Board Secretariat survey of federal institutions' views of the Coordination of Access to Requests System. Results show that compliance with CAIRS requirements is spotty; few institutions use CAIRS' search functions frequently; only half of major institutions regard CAIRS as a "necessary tool" for their organization.

May 2, 2008. Tories decide to kill CAIRS database

Access monthly reports directly [Top]

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Amberlight Monitor [Top]

ATIA requests submitted by journalists and Members of Parliament are usually tagged by federal agencies for special attention, which often causes added delay in the processing of requests. (To learn more, read this paper, "Spin Control and Freedom of Information.") In some agencies, these requests are said to be "amberlighted." The following reports identify media and parliamentary requests logged in CAIRS each month.

ACCESS in the news[Top]


Oct. 13, 2010
The information commissioner gives many federal government departments a failing grade.


Freedom of information in the United Kingdom

A Supreme Court of Canada decision pours cold water on the solicitor-client privilege exemption. Read about the decision in the Law Times.

On Sept. 23, 2006, the Canadian Newspaper Association once again concluded that governments across the country have a long way to go to improve open access to material that should be a matter of public record. For more news about the audit, please visit the CNA's website.

The Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia has launched its website:


Access research[Top]

Darcy-Anne Wintonyk's master's project on Transport Canada and the effect that the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States had on the department's responses to journalists filing freedom-of-information requests caused quite a stir. In the Spring 2006 edition of Media magazine (which also has an excellent primer by the Ottawa Citizen's David Pugliese on how to use the Access to Information Act with a degree of success), Darcy outlined the problems she encountered attempting to carry out her study in order to complete her masters of journalism degree at the University of British Columbia's Masters of Journalism program. You can read the study by clicking here. If you want to contact Darcy, you can reach her at: