What do the names of FOI decisions mean?

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How does IPCO assign names to its FOI access decisions?

The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPCO) assigns a unique identifier to each decision made by its adjudicators.  Generally, the identifier is a short string of letters and numbers, such as P-22, PO-2400, or MO-1508.  But in the early days of IPCO, orders were identified with merely a number – so for the first couple of years under the Freedom Of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), IPCO’s decisions were identified simply as “Order 1”, “Order 2”, etc.

In May 1998, when IPCO started issuing FOI access decisions, FIPPA was Ontario’s only FOI legislation.  The Municipal Freedom Of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) had not yet come into existence.  IPCO saw no need at the time to prefix the numbers it assigned to its decisions with any kind of classification.  So, in the beginning, IPCO decisions were simply identified in the order in which they were decided, as “Order 1”, “Order 2”, etc.  If you see an IPCO decision referred to as simply an “Order” followed by a number between 1 and 210, you are looking at an IPCO decision from its earliest days, and you can be sure that the decision was made under FIPPA (as opposed to MFIPPA).  As of 1991, IPCO moved to prefixing its decisions made under FIPPA with the letter “P”, presumably because these decisions related to “provincial” institutions as opposed to “municipal” ones.  The first IPCO decision using this new numbering scheme was Order P-211 (Ministry of Health), decided on January 11, 1991.  The decision immediately before Order P-211 was simply identified as Order 210 (Ministry of the Attorney General), decided December 19, 1990.

At the same time, MFIPPA came into effect on January 1, 1991.  IPCO started issuing access decisions under MFIPPA, and these were prefixed with the letter “M”, presumably because these decisions related to “municipal” institutions.  The first couple of decisions issued with the “M” naming scheme were Order M-1 (City of Toronto), decided May 5, 1991, and Order M-2 (Town of Ancaster), decided August 15, 1991.

Near the end of 1998, IPCO made a minor change, adding the letter “O” to its access decisions, after the letter “P” or “M”.  (Presumably, the “O” stands for “Ontario”.)  The first decision to use this revised naming scheme was Order PO-1638 (Ministry of Natural Resources), decided November 23, 1998.  The first municipal decision to use the revised naming scheme was Order MO-1166 (York Regional Police Services Board), decided November 24, 1998.

Occasionally the suffix “-R”, “-I” or “-F” will appear after the decision number.  For example, Order PO-2221-I (Ministry of the Solicitor General), decided December 23, 2003.  The suffix “-R” indicates that the Order is a reconsideration of a previous Order.  The suffix “-I” indicates that the order is an interim order.  In contrast, the suffix “-F” indicates that the order is a final order.

Other Kinds of IPCO Decisions

Privacy Reports

IPCO doesn’t just issue FOI access decisions.  It can also issue a “Privacy Report” regarding the conduct and practices of a provincial or municipal institution relating to privacy, often in response to a privacy complaint that has been filed against the institution.  These reports generally make recommendations to the institution on how to improve their practices, or help settle uncertainty with respect to how an institution should be applying FIPPA or MFIPPA.  IPCO decisions that start with the prefix “PR”, “PC”, “MI”, “MC”, “NJ” or “I” all indicate a Privacy Report.  The naming scheme has changed over the years and continues to evolve.

Health Information and Privacy Decisions

IPCO also issues “Health Information and Privacy” decisions under Ontario’s Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA).  These decisions are numbered sequentially.  They all start with the name “PHIPA Decision”, followed by the decision number.

Tips and Insights

IPCO Orders are often referred to using just their identifier, e.g., “Order 2”, or “PO-1639”.  This is sufficient to uniquely identify an IPCO Order, but, to reduce confusion, I generally find it helpful to also include the relevant institution name, and sometimes the decision date as well, especially the first time the IPCO order is being cited.  For example: “Order PO-1638 (Ministry of Natural Resources), decided November 23, 1998”.

In its online database, IPCO has gone back and retroactively prefixed its earliest decisions under FIPPA with a “P-“ for consistency.  This is helpful, but it can also be confusing, as the “P-“ notation does not appear anywhere in the decision itself.

When considering two access decisions both made under FIPPA, or two access decisions both made under MFIPPA, a smaller decision number generally means an earlier decision.  IPCO numbers its access decisions sequentially, so, with few exceptions, the smaller the decision number, the earlier the decision.  However, FIPPA decisions had a “head start” on MFIPPA decisions, with FIPPA Order P-211 and MFIPPA Order M-1 being issued around the same time in early 1991.  This means that the decision numbers under FIPPA vs. the numbers MFIPPA aren’t directly comparable.  If a FIPPA decision and an MFIPPA decision were released around the same time, the FIPPA decision will generally have a larger decision number.  Interestingly, the gap between FIPPA and MFIPPA decision numbers has remained fairly constant, going from 210 in 1991, to 194 currently.

Conclusions/Takeaways

  • If an IPCO access decision has no letter prefix (i.e., “Order 2”) or starts with “P-” or “PO-”, it is a decision relating to a provincial institution under FIPPA.
  • Similarly, if an IPCO access decision starts with “M-” or “MO-”, it relates to a municipal institution under MFIPPA.
  • IPCO numbers its access decisions sequentially, with the result that an earlier decision will nearly always have a lower number assigned to it. However, orders made under MFIPPA (starting with “M-” or “MO-”) are on their own separate sequence, so “M-” and “MO-” decision numbers aren’t directly comparable with FIPPA decision numbers.
  • For orders with a letter suffix: The suffix “-R” indicates that the Order is a reconsideration of a previous Order.  The suffix “-I” indicates that the order is an interim order, while the suffix “-F” indicates that the order is a final order.
  • IPCO orders can be cited using just their identifier, e.g., “PO-1639”, but it’s often helpful to use a full citation which includes the relevant institution and decision date, e.g., “Order PO-1638 (Ministry of Natural Resources), decided November 23, 1998”.
  • IPCO decisions that start with the prefix “PR”, “PC”, “MI”, “MC”, “NJ” or “I” are Privacy Reports.
  • IPCO decisions that start with “PHIPA Decision” are “Health Information and Privacy” decisions under Ontario’s Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA).

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Links to Resources:

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90f31

Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90m56

Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA) https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/04p03

Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPCO) Decisions https://decisions.ipc.on.ca/ipc-cipvp/en/nav.do

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