Concerns of Students filling out ATI/FOI Forms

When some students are first introduced to the topic of Access to Information (ATI)/ Freedom of Information (FOI) they have some concerns. This includes that filling out a report might ‘put them on radar’ or identify them as ‘people to watch out for’. It has been noted that it is a particular concern to those who plan to seek employment within the government (example police officer).

“Access to Information gives Canadian citizens, permanent residents, or any person or corporation present in Canada a right to access information that is contained in government records (Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat – Access to Information).”

Freedom of Information allows “the public to request and obtain copies of records held by B.C. government ministries or the Office of the Premier, when those records are not routinely available (B.C. Government – Freedom of Information).”

The Official Version of Law is supposed to be impartial, neutral, and an objective system for resolving social conflict. As well as her decisions are supposed to be measured and precise. However this does not seem to be the case since some students have expressed concerns about filling out a report(s) to obtain ATI and FOI record(s). If the Official Version of Law was actually neutral and objective students wouldn’t feel like it would ‘put them on radar’ or identify them as ‘people to watch out for’. However no student would ever be straight out told that they are being denied the job because of the information they wanted to obtain about the government as a student as that would violate their rights. This being said it does not mean that just because people have rights to access these records that it will not be used against them, which I believe, goes against what the Official Version of Law is supposed to be.

I think this concern is relevant as just because one has the right to access ATI and FOI records it doesn’t mean that it won’t be on record and someone might use it against them in the future after they have graduated school and now are applying for jobs that may be in the government. As no student would ever be able to prove that they are being denied the job over their request for records it does make it more challenging. I think social jurisprudence would help explain this to some degree as it is interested in the study of the actual social effects of the law. The law states that you can fill out a form and get information however it does not include anything about who can access what you have requested or not and if your name would be attached to it.

Legal realism by Frank can also help explain this as he says all judges view facts of a case differently based on their internal psychological processes and perceptions. This can be applied to this as employers may few someone viewing files as something that matters or something that is no big deal. Also the files someone accessed that are viewed as bad or not depending on the department of the government or what the person exposed opening up public access to government records. This may make the employer wonder what else they make expose to the public at a later date and time something about the government.

There is no way to predict the outcome of filling out an ATI or FOI report. This being said with the ‘theory of law’ in mind that it should have no implication on a government job, as it is a legal right to access documents about the government. The laws were made so that citizens could have access and study some of the information that only the government has access to. In Canada we have the rights to access information and freedom to information if they did not want this they would have no made these rules.

Overall I think it is a valid concern of students however I do not think it would stop me from filling out a report for ATI or FOI. The laws and rights were put place to protect the government information and at the same time give me access to some information.


Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat – Access to Information

B.C. Government – Freedom of Information

Mike Larsen Lecture Notes

Week 3 – Positivism and Sociological Jurisprudence


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One response to “Concerns of Students filling out ATI/FOI Forms

  1. This observation:

    “If the Official Version of Law was actually neutral and objective students wouldn’t feel like it would ‘put them on radar’ or identify them as ‘people to watch out for’.”

    is very important. A right can only really be said to exist in full if it can be exercised without fear of repercussion. More importantly, though, it seems incongruous to me to aspire to work in and for an institution that you believe might target people for exclusion because they exercised a legal right!

    Please note that the operation of the ATIA does involve privacy protections for applicants. I have seen no concrete evidence to suggest that these protections are breached as a matter of practice. I have heard anecdotal accounts to this effect, though.

    I would welcome an expanded application of legal realism to the administration of ATI/FOI processes. The emphasis on the psychological basis of decision-making is important.