MFIPPA: A How-to Guide for the City of Ottawa

Kevin O'Donnell
2016-07-15 10:16

Everyone has the right to ask for information from the city. Here's a quick guide to get you started.

First, just ask nicely. Staff genuinely want to do everything they can for you.

Sometimes the best tool for the job is simply to email the staff member you think is the right person and ask for the information you want (or ask them to forward you to the right person). Staff who are point-people on consultations are very helpful. It is literally their job to provide you with more information (up to a point).

In most cases that's it. In a few minutes, or usually by next day, I have received what I was hoping to get. But sometimes what I want isn't something they have easily at hand, etc, or some policy prevents them from giving it to you.

Next, just ask nicely while holding a piece of paper and five dollars.

When staff can't easily give you want you want is when you open up the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) toolbox. It's like Thor's Hammer but for civics, except everyone can wield it, so actually it's not like Thor's Hammer at all.

I bumped up against some limits recently when I asked the city's project team for the traffic speed surveys for Byron Avenue. I wanted to review all the numbers myself because, as Drake Fenton would say: Ottawa, man

Staff were very helpful (& responsive!) in letting me know where speed surveys had been done but there is a policy that prevents them from giving them to people for free.

From staffer member #1: Please note there is a $ 106.00 plus HST fee for each location.

From staff member #2: there is a charge for data requests which is something we’ve been directed to do by a 2016 City Council directive. 

I'm interseted in the Byron traffic calming project because I recently bought a house on Byron. I recently bought a house on Byron so I'm not interested in paying over $1000 for data the city has sitting around, and that's probably been circulated internally recently.

Sidebar: I haven't followed up on what this directive actually is. I have some patience for the city being responsible by giving staff guidance on how far backwards they should bend for people. People can be unreasonable. But the city has an Open Data policy. Why not just immediately publish speed reports to the opendata portal and be done with it? Staff can get it from there instead of by internal distribution. I have lots of thoughts on this. Another time. Back to the how-to.


No, I'm not going to fork over a big chunk of money for some data. Time to use a different tool and go to the city's MFIPPA page, download a PDF, and fill out a description of the records I want:

Copies of all traffic speed reports for Byron avenue created as part of the “Byron Avenue traffic calming design” project:

On June 24th I walked that into City Hall and paid $5 to file the MFIPPA request at the main client centre. In and out in a few minutes (the lineups in the service centre are for Service Ontario. You'll never wait long at the city desks).

Within a few days you'll always get a letter in the mail (IN THE MAIL!) confirming receipt of your request.

Yesterday I got the full response in the mail: paper copies of all of the speed data reports.

Total cost: $5.

Total time: 3 weeks.


So now you know it's pretty easy to get the data you want out of the city. Glen McGregor has written a great resource on getting data from government, which is definitely worth your time: The delicate art of negotiating for data.

comments powered by Disqus

More stories...

Development Charges Background Study, 2017 Amendment
2017-03-28 09:18:55
Ottawa Vanier by-election: live-stream November 10th, 7pm
2016-11-07 12:05:33
MFIPPA: Ottawa Police Service How-to Guide
2016-11-01 12:08:35
The market price of 60 specific park-and-ride spaces
2016-10-14 15:31:23
Part Lot Control: blocks and parcels and lots
2016-10-06 13:10:29
Forcing the Police Board to deal with an issue
2016-05-31 11:16:34
Sparks Street Mall Authority governance review: bumpy
2016-04-18 09:49:47
Give me an ad Vasili
2016-04-01 09:00:42
Zoning inflation: the Shania Twain effect
2016-02-29 09:02:09
Information Tickle Trunk
2016-02-28 22:32:47
Public Bathroom Map for Ottawa: a howto
2016-02-19 13:17:28
Delegating to a City Committee
2016-02-03 14:09:09
Lebreton Redevelopment Story Collection
2016-01-26 09:20:44
A few of my favourite Joanne Chianello stories
2015-12-09 22:04:06
Online at last: Committee of Adjustment web presence coming in 2016
2015-11-19 10:53:01
Ottawa Centre #elxn42 Candidates Debate — Oct 1 — Livestream
2015-09-09 21:19:18
If you were a ward boundary review petition, what would you look like?
2015-07-06 09:09:09
Traffic cameras and a MFIPPA request
2015-06-18 10:38:48
City Solicitor, DCR Phoenix and over-contributions
2015-04-18 19:39:03
2014 Winners Donation Index and Audit Application Instructions
2015-04-16 15:28:58
Corporate Directory Search Crowdsourcing
2015-04-13 10:55:49
First Analysis of the 2014 Election Donation Index
2015-04-11 06:14:44
Three Thousand Two Hundred and Nineteen - Digitizing 2014 Campaign Donations
2015-04-08 09:16:04
Goodwill motions: when motions are not real motions.
2015-03-26 12:25:23
A Debate Over Five Words: and the City of Ottawa
2015-03-26 08:32:25
Reporters' Privacy and the Daily Media Call Summary
2015-03-02 14:24:27
Browse and Search the 2015 Draft Budget
2015-02-05 23:46:52
Taxi Regulation Report: Uber Late with no ETA
2015-01-24 11:00:26
Assorted By-Laws
2015-01-22 10:02:56
Postmedia's conversation with the Mayor
2014-11-07 09:25:24
Detailed #OttVote Results: 2014
2014-11-01 14:36:22
Website Screengrabs - 2014 OttVote Edition
2014-10-26 23:55:30
Ottawa Citizen #OttVote Candidate Survey - Index
2014-10-25 14:47:10
Kitchissippi All Candidates Debate Livestream
2014-10-06 13:50:32
In Support of Ottawa123 and Ranked Ballots
2014-10-03 11:53:21
OttWatch's avatar is...
2014-09-30 10:50:19
OttVote Advocacy: Find Your Ward Widget
2014-08-04 21:03:58
The Fundamentals of Municipal Finance: Seminar
2014-07-14 10:45:35
Digitizing the 2014-Q1 MFIPPA disclosure list
2014-05-05 09:41:48
Committee of Adjustment: Agendas
2014-02-03 08:54:44
Ottawa Stop Sign Requests: mapped
2014-02-02 23:16:46
Campaign Transparency: 2003 and 2006 campaign returns
2014-02-01 23:57:45
How to comment on Committee of Adjustment applications
2014-01-28 11:49:47
Donations and Maps
2014-01-23 00:40:58
Committee of Adjustment: Panel Agendas
2014-01-20 09:22:17
Minority Report
2013-12-31 09:43:29
Inside the Lobbyist Registry
2013-11-14 09:18:57
Tiny Zoning Tour
2013-11-01 02:58:52
OttWatch Publishes Freedom of Information Requests
2013-10-29 20:38:47
Created by Kevin O'Donnell to make it easier to be part of the political conversation in Ottawa.
On Twitter? Follow @OttWatch and @ODonnell_K
Privacy Policy