Veterans Affairs Canada (Re), 2021 OIC 28
OIC file number: 3217-02303
Institution file number: A-2017-00119
The complainant alleged that Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) improperly withheld under section 19(1) (personal information) of the Access to Information Act the names and service numbers of individuals who had been awarded the Arctic Star.
VAC conceded that some of the information it had withheld, including the names of some recipients who had been deceased for more than 20 years, did not meet the requirements of subsection 19(1) and disclosed the information to the complainant during the course of the investigation.
However, VAC maintained that some names and service numbers had been properly withheld.
The Information Commissioner consulted the Privacy Commissioner who agreed that the names and service numbers can be released as they fall under the exception to the definition of “personal information” in paragraph 3(j) of the Privacy Act.
VAC agreed to implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendation to disclose the full names and service numbers of the recipients of the Arctic Star which had not yet been disclosed.
The complaint is well founded.
 The complainant alleged that Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) improperly withheld under section 19(1) (personal information) of the Access to Information Act the names and service numbers of individuals who had been awarded the Arctic Star. This military medal is awarded to members of Commonwealth forces who served north of the Arctic Circle, during the Second World War.
 During the investigation, VAC conceded that some of the information it had withheld, including the names of some recipients, did not meet the requirements of subsection 19(1) (i.e. it was publicly available) or the definition of “personal information” in the Privacy Act (i.e. it related to individuals who had been deceased for more than 20 years). VAC subsequently disclosed this information but continued to maintain that it had properly withheld the rest of the information under subsection 19(1).
 The complainant limited the scope of the investigation to the application of subsection 19(1) to the names and service numbers of individuals who had been awarded the Arctic Star.
Subsection 19(1): Personal information
 Subsection 19(1) requires institutions to refuse to release personal information.
 To claim this exemption, institutions must show the following:
- The information is about an individual—that is, a human being, not a corporation.
- There is a serious possibility that disclosing the information would identify that individual.
- The information does not fall under one of the exceptions to the definition of “personal information” set out in paragraphs 3(j) to 3(m) of the Privacy Act (for example, business contact information for public servants).
 When these requirements are met, institutions must then consider whether the following circumstances exist:
- The person to whom the information relates consents to its release.
- The information is publicly available.
- Disclosure of the information would be consistent with section 8 of the Privacy Act.
 When one or more of these circumstances exist, subsection 19(2) of the Access to Information Act requires institutions to reasonably exercise their discretion to decide whether to release the information.
Does the information meet the requirements of the exemption?
 I am of the view that the names and service numbers fall under the exception to the definition of “personal information” in paragraph 3(j) of the Privacy Act. This provision makes an exception for information about an individual who is or was an officer or employee of a government institution and that relates to that individual’s position or functions.
 Second World War-era service numbers do not function the way that current service numbers do. The older service numbers relate to the individual’s position in the military and thus could also be excluded under paragraph 3(j) of the Privacy Act. In fact, many older service numbers are widely available in a number of public databases on Second World War service history.
 The Arctic Star was granted by the government of the United Kingdom “for operational service of any length, from September 3, 1939, to May 8, 1945 inclusive, north of the Arctic Circle (66 degrees, 32'N) on the Greenland Sea, Norwegian Sea and Barents Sea.”
 Given that “operational service” in this context refers to military service, Canadian medal recipients would have been members—officers or non-commissioned members, in other words—of the Canadian Armed Forces (Navy, Merchant Navy, Air Force or Army).
 In Canada (Information Commissioner) v. Canada (Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), 2003 SCC 8, para. 39, the Supreme Court found that disclosing the historical postings of Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers would “not reveal anything about their competence or divulge any personal opinion given outside the course of employment – rather, they provide information relevant to understanding the functions they perform.” The names of members of the Canadian Armed Forces who received the Arctic Star likewise shed light on the functions they performed during the war.
 Given the matter at issue, I consulted the Privacy Commissioner under subsection 36(1.1) of the Access to Information Act. The Privacy Commissioner confirmed my preliminary view that National Defence, including the Canadian Armed Forces, is specifically mentioned in the schedule to the Privacy Act that lists the organizations considered to be “government institutions” for the purpose of that legislation. Further, the Privacy Commissioner agreed with me that in this case, the names and service numbers of Second World War veterans awarded the Arctic Star can be released under the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act.
 In light of the above, I conclude that the names and service numbers of recipients of the Arctic Star do not meet the requirements of subsection 19(1) because they fall within one of the exceptions to the definition of “personal information,” specifically paragraph 3(j) of the Privacy Act.
 The complaint is well founded.
I recommend that the Minister of Veterans Affairs’:
- Disclose the full names and service numbers of the recipients of the Arctic Star that have not yet been disclosed.
- Email a copy of VAC’s response letter to the Office of the Information Commissioner’s Registrar (Greffe-Registry@oci-ci.gc.ca).
On July 6, 2021, I issued my initial report to the Minister of Veterans Affairs’ setting out my intended recommendations.
On August 18, 2021, the Director of Privacy and Information Management gave notice to the OIC that Veterans Affairs’ Canada accepted the recommendation on the understanding that it applies only in the circumstances of this case.
I have provided the Privacy Commissioner of Canada with this report.
Section 41 of the Act provides a right to any person, excepting institutions, who receives this report to apply to the Federal Court for a review. Complainants must apply for this review within 35 business days after the date of this report. When they do not, the Privacy Commissioner may apply for a review within the next 10 business days. The person who applies for a review must serve a copy of the application for review to the relevant parties, as per section 43.