The South China Morning Post began attempting to obtain details of Chinese participation in Canada's investor immigrant programme last September, when it lodged a freedom-of-information request for the data.
A researcher with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) who was compiling the data for the Post said in November that it was on the verge of completion.
But in December, the Post received a letter from CIC's acting director of access to information, Patrice Beriault, who said the request had been denied.
Beriault said the data was exempt from the Access to Information Act but could be obtained by searching the Immigration Department's database at a cost of C$1,800 per hour (HK$12,600).
However, later that month the Post contacted Canadian immigration lawyer Richard Kurland.
Kurland said he had privately obtained the desired data via his own freedom-of-information requests, costly database searches and scouring of obscure government data. He agreed to share it with the Post. The data included documents dated January 8 last year that were e-mailed between immigration staff in March and spreadsheets with details of the visa scheme from 2002 to 2013.
Emily Cole, a senior administrator with the CIC, said in a December 10 telephone interview that the Access to Information Act only covered statistics which had been previously compiled. Answers to the Post's questions were thus not available.
Asked if this meant that answers to any of the Post's questions had ever been provided to or sought by a member of the government, Cole said: "That is my understanding, correct."
The Post's original freedom-of-information request had sought the numbers of Chinese applicants in the investor visa queue, details of their wealth and the rate at which applicants were being accepted or rejected.
Cole said in an e-mail that the CIC researcher's comment that compilation of the data was near completion last November had been a "misunderstanding".