Decisions

127 decisions found

Jun 16
2011

Clarifying requests can lead to satisfactory responses

Institution
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Section of the Act
19
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) withheld various contracts awarded to CBC annuitants as personal information under section 19.

Investigation: The OIC learned that the complainant wanted to know how many annuitants had returned to the CBC on short-term employment or consulting contracts. Since the CBC does not register the number of contracts, it instead proposed releasing the number of individuals with contracts, the number with more than one short-term contract within each year and the number with only one short-term employment contract within each year.

Outcome: The CBC created a record containing the information and released it in its entirety.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • By asking requesters exactly what they are looking for, institutions can respond satisfactorily. In this case, the requester did not want the actual contracts but rather information about them.
  • When it is reasonable to create a record to give requesters the information they seek, institutions should do so.
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Jun 16
2011

Confirm whether information is already available before applying exemptions

Institution
Bank of Canada
Section of the Act
18
21
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: The Bank of Canada applied various exemptions to notes that discussed the results of any economic model of the Canadian dollar.

Investigation: The investigation revealed that the information was already available on the Bank’s website. The investigator directed the complainant to find it there.

Outcome: The requester confirmed that he found the information on the website.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • Before refusing to release information or applying exemptions, institutions must confirm whether information is already available—in this case, on the institution’s website. Doing so may mean requesters get the information they seek more quickly than otherwise.
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Jun 16
2011

When an alternative means of access is available, institutions should suggest it

Institution
Canadian Security Intelligence Service
Section of the Act
10(2)
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) refused to confirm or deny the existence of any files concerning the requester under subsection 10(2), noting that if they did exist, they would be withheld under several exemptions.

Investigation: The OIC learned that CSIS had contacted the requester and suggested he make a request under the Privacy Act for the information. In response, CSIS would list the searched personal information banks and in most cases confirm whether it had the information.

Outcome: The OIC reiterated the institution’s offer to the requester, and the requester agreed that it might resolve the matter. CSIS issued another response as though the requester had made the request under the Privacy Act.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • Requesters might not always understand the difference between making a request under the Access to Information Act and making one under the Privacy Act.
  • In these circumstances, institutions can often provide requesters with the information they seek—and meet their duty to assist—by suggesting that their request be processed under the other Act, as was true in this case.
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Jun 16
2011

Maximizing public accountability must figure in decisions about discretion

Institution
Justice Canada
Section of the Act
23
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: The Department of Justice Canada withheld under section 23 the total number of hours its lawyers had spent preparing and litigating a court case on behalf of the Canada Revenue Agency.

Investigation: The records included the amount of time spent and the tasks performed by each lawyer, and their names. At the OIC’s urging, the institution agreed to release various document headings but still refused to release the total number of hours.

Outcome: Following a formal request from the OIC for written reasons why it was continuing to withhold the information, the institution disclosed the total hours.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • When applying the solicitor-client privilege exemption, institutions should keep in mind that when the client is a government institution the fees are paid out of public funds.
  • In these circumstances, institutions must not claim exemptions too broadly and must properly exercise their discretion to release the information in order to maximize public accountability.
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Jun 16
2011

Handwriting alone is not a reason to consider information to be personal

Institution
Justice Canada
Section of the Act
19
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: The Department of Justice Canada withheld information under section 19 when responding to a request for all records related to surveys responses of beneficiaries of a fund for victims of crime.

Investigation: The OIC learned that most of the information withheld as personal was exempted because it was handwritten.

Outcome: In response to a request from the OIC, the institution severed the records and only withhold information such as names of individuals, dates, details of crimes and family particulars that could lead to the individuals who had completed the survey being identified.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • For records to qualify as personal information, they have to be linked to an identifiable individual. In this case, the handwriting in itself could not reveal the individuals’ identity.
  • Section 25 states that institutions must sever records to facilitate the release of as much information as possible. Access personnel should keep this obligation in mind when reviewing records.
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Jun 16
2011

Signatures provided in public service capacity not personal information

Institution
Privy Council Office
Section of the Act
19
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: The Privy Council Office (PCO) withheld as personal information the signatures of employees on all call-ups it had processed in the National Capital Region over one month for temporary help.

Investigation: The OIC found that the individuals had signed the call-ups in order to approve them in their professional capacity.

Outcome: PCO disclosed the signatures.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • While a signature is information about an identifiable person, the signature of a government employee provided in the course of official functions falls within the exception to the definition of personal information found in paragraph 3(j) of the Privacy Act.
  • The presence or absence of signatures or initials is an important piece of information in the context of government accountability.
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Jun 16
2011

Exemptions require clear rationales

Institution
Industry Canada
Section of the Act
20
21
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: Industry Canada withheld 230 pages in part and about 50 in their entirety from a study on the impact of downloads and file sharing on music purchases, citing several exemptions.

Investigation: The OIC reviewed all the exemptions claimed and agreed in many instances that the institution had applied them properly. However, most of the information withheld was not confidential third-party information (paragraphs 20(1)(b) and (c)) or advice and recommendations (paragraph 21(1)(a)).

Outcome: Industry Canada made two additional releases to the requester, withholding only portions of seven pages.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • When claiming exemptions, institutions must clearly show how and why the information they wish to withhold qualifies for those exemptions.
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Jun 16
2011

Narrow interpretation of requests can limit right of access

Institution
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Section of the Act
2
6
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) withheld portions of records relating to the reimbursement of a senior official for fees for tuition, books and other materials.

Investigation: The OIC learned that the CBC had not retrieved or processed any records specifically related to the reimbursement of the tuition fees because no such records existed; the CBC had paid the fees directly to the university.

Outcome: The complainant obtained the information after making a new request.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • When the requester asked for information relating to the reimbursement of tuition fees, it should have been obvious that he wanted to know how much the CBC spent for the course. He could not have known that the CBC had paid the university directly.
  • By interpreting the request so narrowly, CBC failed to consider and respect section 2, which sets out that the Act is intended to extend the right of access based on the principle that government information should be available to the public.
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Jun 3
2010

Broadly applying section 15 should not be default response to national security requests

Institution
National Defence
Section of the Act
15
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: National Defence refused to disclose a list of personal grooming items found in the possession of Afghan detainees, claiming that doing so would threaten national security (section 15). The institution also withheld information under section 19 and, later, section 17 to protect the safety of military personnel.

Investigation: The OIC agreed with National Defence’s decision to withhold the detainees’ names and assigned numbers as personal information, and also to withhold that information and the names of the Canadian Forces members identified on the list to protect their safety and that of their families. Throughout the investigation, National Defence stood firm in its position not to release the list of grooming items.

Outcome: In response to a formal recommendation from the Commissioner, National Defence released not only the list but also information relating to military personnel, since disclosure would no longer constitute a threat to them.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • Institutions should not apply section 15 broadly as their default response to requests that touch on national security issues (or even those only tangentially related).
  • Institutions have a responsibility to exercise their discretion carefully, and to sever and release information that cannot be legitimately withheld under the Act.
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Jun 3
2010

Time extension of little value when no work is done to respond to request

Institution
Industry Canada
Section of the Act
9(2)
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: Industry Canada was late in claiming a 150-day time extension to respond to a request for records related to a study on the impact of downloads and file sharing on music purchases.

Investigation: The OIC discovered that Industry Canada access officials had done very little to process the request. For example, they had not, by the time the investigation began, even started the required consultations. With the requester’s permission, the institution had also put the request on hold twice for short periods to accommodate holidays, despite the Act’s not recognizing this as a valid reason to put requests on hold.

Outcome: Industry Canada met the final response deadline the Information Commissioner formally recommended. Information Commissioner’s position: Although the Access to Information Act allows institutions to claim time extensions under specific circumstances, they are of little value when the institution does not do the work required to respond to the request. In addition, extensions must be claimed during the first 30 days after receiving the request.

 Information Commissioner’s position:

  •   Although the Access to Information Act allows institutions to claim time extensions under specific circumstances, they are of little value when the institution does not do the work required to respond to the request.
  •  In addition, extensions must be claimed during the first 30 days after receiving the request.
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