Alberta's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) requires MHC to provide open access to information about the institution, our policies and procedures and other details as may be required. The same law restricts disclosure of information about individuals without their permission.
While working within the provision of the Act may require some additional work and time, it is a small price to pay for the assurance that personal information is protected, and to provide accountability with access to institutional records.
There are five fundamental principles that will help you work and learn within the law:
- You have the right to access college information, subject only to limited and specific exceptions.
- We may collect your personal information only for specific reasons, must control the use of that information, and carefully control disclosure of that information.
- You have the right to access the records we have about you, subject to limited and specific exceptions.
- You have the right to request corrections to the records we hold about you.
- If necessary, you may contact the Privacy Commissioner with any concerns.
MHC Personal Information Banks
A personal information bank lists the type of personal information held by a public body. Please click here to view MHC's Personal Information Banks.
Right of Access to Information
This means you or any member of the public, including the media, must have free access to MHC records. The traditional red "Confidential" stamp applied to proposals or meeting minutes is absolutely meaningless from a FOIP perspective.
This does not imply that there is no confidentiality under FOIP. In fact, there are many reasons that MHC may legally withhold information. For example, the working documents and proposals leading to the development of MHC's annual budget document can be considered "advice from officials" and held in confidence. The final results of budget discussions, however, cannot be considered confidential.
The right of access to information also has implications for other organizations doing business with MHC. Partner organizations may, through contractual agreements, create or share records with MHC. In most cases, the records also become part of the information available about MHC through FOIP.
Working and learning in a FOIP environment
Common sense tempered with sensitivity to the privacy of individuals easily prevails when considering how to work within the bounds of FOIP.
Collecting personal information
FOIP requires that we collect information directly from an individual for reasons consistent with the purpose of the organization and necessary to operate the program. Taking the additional step of informing people of the personal information you will be collecting and how that information will be used is also necessary.
Disclosing personal information
FOIP requires strict limitations to disclosures of personal information. However, you may disclose virtually any information with the permission of the individuals involved. In some cases, this will be the simplest method of ensuring your activity is acceptable.
Keep in mind, however, that the majority does not rule when considering the disclosure of personal information. If every student but one provides permission to post marks in the hall, for example, you may disclose information for every student except that one individual. You may also make limited disclosures of personal information for reasons consistent with the purpose of the organization and necessary to operate our programs.
Working at Home
Many employees routinely complete aspects of the job duties at home, or use personal computers for MHC work. All individuals are reminded that responsibility for handling records appropriately does not end at the border of the campus-MHC and the individual employee continue to have legal custody of the record no matter where it is located. Therefore, using a home computer to build a database of student marks, or simply marking assignments at home could easily lead to disclosures of personal information that may potentially lead to a complaint.
It is not unusual for faculty or staff of MHC to receive inquires from law enforcement agencies. Generally, FOIP allows MHC to release information to a law enforcement officer only when a specific case file is open. Faculty and staff should refer all calls for confirmation of attendance from any agency to the FOIP coordinator who is authorized to make disclosures of this information subject to the Act.
FOIP Authority at MHC
The Act expects an organization to define which employees have authority under the Act. At Medicine Hat College, the delegated authority is the FOIP Coordinator:
FOIP for Students
On a day to day basis, FOIP will have little impact on your career as a student at MHC. You may notice that MHC forms carry a statement about FOIP. That is because MHC is required to tell you why we are collecting information from you, and what we intend to do with the information.
You should also expect MHC to seek information that will contribute to your success in your classroom or lab, or that is required for a specific instructional purpose. For example, we need to know about your academic history as part of the basic MHC admissions process.
In some cases, however, the information we require is much more personal and detailed. Various programs require health records, even criminal record checks, to ensure individuals may proceed with course work or on-the-job learning situations. If you feel uncomfortable with a request for information, please talk it over with your instructor or dean.
At times, it may seem that FOIP is a barrier to accomplishing a goal or task. For example, you will have to fill out a form to provide permission for an instructor to provide a reference. This extra step is required because MHC and its employees may release very limited information about you without express permission. You may also notice that some of your classes pay extra attention to FOIP. In most cases, that is because the teaching methods or situations in your class will require sharing more personal information than is common.
Protection of Personal Privacy
This component of the FOIP Act has the greatest impact on the daily routines of MHC. Except for very limited circumstances, we may not release any information about an identifiable individual without his or her permission. For example:
- A student's grade on an exam or essay is considered personal information that we may not disclose. Practices like posting marks on the wall, or leaving piles of exam papers available for students to pick up, are not appropriate within FOIP.
- Your recorded opinion about an individual is considered personal information about and belonging to that individual. For example, your written opinion of a colleague does not belong to you, it belongs to the other person. Releasing this information without permission is inappropriate.
- It may help you to equate personal information to cash. When MHC gathers personal data, it is much the same as collecting money to hold in trust. Obviously, it is wrong to spend money held in trust without either informing or obtaining permission from the person to whom the cash belongs. Equally, you may not share information about a person without first informing or gathering permission from that individual.