Ten ways to improve your record searches

1. Look to the news headlines for ideas. 2. Check the federal websites for forms, contacts, info on departmental holdings. 3. Call the access co-ordinator before making your request. 4. Call the co-ordinator after submitting your request. 5. Make similar requests to more than one agency or government. 6. Keep a photocopy of each request and attach all return correspondence. 7. Negotiate with agencies. 8. Be persistent. If necessary, complain. 9. Read the records you receive carefully. 10. Don't get discouraged.

Canadian Federal Access Tip No. 1

RECORD: Expense claims. DEPARTMENT: All departments/agencies. ASK FOR: Receipts, invoices and guest lists detailing travel and hospitality expenses claimed by a deputy minister or other senior bureaucrat. HINTS: Limit request to no more than one year's worth of claims. RESULTS: Can reveal spending habits and establish dates of key meetings, dealings.

Canadian Federal Access Tip No. 2

RECORD: Correspondence. DEPARTMENT: All departments/agencies. ASK FOR: Correspondence with a minister or agency head on a topic of interest. HINTS: Frame request narrowly. For instance, exclude letters from the public if you do not require them. RESULTS: Can uncover letters from provincial premiers, lobby groups.

Canadian Federal Access Tip No. 3

RECORD: House cards. DEPARTMENT: All departments. ASK FOR: All cards prepared for the minister in the House of Commons on a specific issue. HINTS: Watch headlines, Commons debates for ideas. RESULTS: Often contain much more detail, background than revealed in Question Period.

Canadian Federal Access Tip No. 4

RECORD: Polls. DEPARTMENT: All departments, but especially Privy Council Office. ASK FOR: Polls conducted for the department on a given subject. HINTS: Some (but not all) polls are released informally. RESULTS: Can reveal public attitudes towards government policies.

Canadian Federal Access Tip No. 5

RECORD: 20-year-old cabinet documents. DEPARTMENT: Privy Council Office. ASK FOR: Cabinet records on a specific issue. HINTS: Check almanac for noteworthy past events. RESULTS: Meeting minutes reveal thinking of ministers on issues. (Cabinet documents routinely become public only after 30 years).
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