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One might need an officer’s notes or witness statements of a collission as part of a civil suit against the other driver.

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I was in a car accident last year and I've since had medical issues, time off work and financial repercussions. I'm hoping to get a deferral on my taxes – but I'll need the accident report. It's been surprisingly difficult to get. I went to the OPP and they told me I'd need to file a Freedom of Information request. Isn't this information supposed to be publicly available? – Chris, Toronto

In Ontario, you can get a copy of your collision report instantly, but it might not have the impact you need.

"It would have the date, time, location, who was involved, a list of any injuries and usually a diagram of the collision," said Sergeant Carolle Dionne, Ontario Provincial Police spokeswoman. "It's not an FOI [Freedom of Information] process unless you need more than that."

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In Ontario, police take collision reports if there's been an injury or property damage, if damage to all vehicles looks as if it will be more than $2,000 or if there's a suspected crime, such as impaired driving or a hit-and-run.

If there are injuries, property damage or a crime, police will come to the scene of the crash and write the report in person. Otherwise, they'll direct you to the nearest accident reporting centre and an officer will write the report there. Either way, the reports are the same.

"These reports contain detailed information pertaining to a collision event, such as road conditions, location, information on vehicles and drivers involved, persons involved and the severity of their injuries," Bob Nichols, Ontario's Ministry of Transportation (MTO) spokesman, said in an e-mail statement. "Police submit an electronic collision report to MTO, provide a copy of the report to each driver involved in the collision, a copy to the municipality where the collision occurred, and retain a copy for their records."

How to get a copy

If you don't have the copy police gave you or you need another, there are two ways to get one.

ServiceOntario charges $12 – $18 if you want it certified. While the website says the report is only available in a paper copy and gets mailed in four to six weeks, Nichols said you can get an "instantaneous" copy if you order online.

You can also get a copy from the police force that handled the collision. In Toronto, that would be the OPP for incidents on 400-series highways and Toronto police for everywhere else.

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Toronto police charge $67.80 and you can order one by mail or in person at police headquarters. The OPP charge $42.25 and you can get it at the detachment.

"The collision reports are not public information and only those involved may obtain them," said Constable Clint Stibbe, with Toronto police traffic services.

Across Canada, the way to order an accident report varies by city and province – some provinces, such as Quebec, allow you to pick up a copy in person.

Insufficient information?

So what's not in those collision reports? Well, they won't have addresses or phone numbers. And, if there were young offenders, all their identifying information will be redacted, Nichols said.

The reports also don't include the officer's notes, statements from drivers and witnesses or the police photos of the damage.

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For those, you'd need to file a request through MTO's Freedom of Information and privacy office.

"The FOI office will determine if the information you seek can be released to the public," Nichols said.

So why might you need the officer's notes or witness statements?

"It might be part of a civil suit against the other driver," Dionne said.

Taxpayer relief?

A copy of the accident report – the one available from police or the province – might come in handy if you were late filing your taxes because of the accident.

"If you were in an accident one year and were late to file, they may give you relief from penalties for that particular year," said Dale Barrett, a Toronto tax lawyer.

While there's "no mechanism" to defer or postpone paying taxes entirely, you can apply to ask Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to waive penalties and interest in "extraordinary circumstances," including serious accidents and illnesses, Barrett said.

"You've got to give them a complete understanding of the entire situation. You need good documentation – the more, the merrier," Barrett said. "Make sure you have the accident report and doctor's letters and affidavits from family and friends – whatever can corroborate your story."

The application typically takes 18 months – and you'll still have to make payments while it's pending, Barrett said.

"It's a very difficult application to have succeed," Barrett said. "I always wonder if the taxpayer relief committee has to give up their own money if they approve an application."

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