Decisions

120 decisions found

Dec 8
2015

Releasing vague information not likely to identify individuals

Institution
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Section of the Act
19
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: Citing section 19, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) withheld as personal information the locations from which officers had seized improperly stored firearms in individual residences affected by a flood.

Investigation: The descriptions of the locations ranged from vague (“in residence”) to more specific (“closet of master bedroom” and “under the bed in the bedroom”). The RCMP argued that releasing such information could make it possible to identify the homeowners. The OIC did not agree.

Outcome: The RCMP released the information.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • Descriptions of the locations of improperly stored firearms do not qualify as information about an identifiable individual, and therefore may not be protected under section 19.
Read more
Dec 8
2015

Seeking consent part of reasonable application of section 19

Institution
Finance Canada
National Defence
Section of the Act
19
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: Citing section 19, National Defence and the Department of Finance Canada withheld information in response to requests: the names and scores of candidates in a job competition in the former case and the personal information of people involved in meetings about possible changes to the Income Tax Act in the latter.

Investigation: The OIC learned that the institutions had not sought the consent to release the information from the individuals to whom the information related, as the Act requires in these circumstances.

Outcome: National Defence asked the eight people in the job competition for consent to release their personal information; however, they declined. The 10 people involved in the tax law meetings did consent, and additional information was disclosed to the requester.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • An institution may release information when the individual or party to whom the information relates or belongs consents to its disclosure. (See, for example, paragraph 19(2)(a) for personal information or subsection 20(5) for third-party information.)
  • Institutions must seek this consent when it is reasonable to do so, and should then disclose the information whenever the individual consents, barring exceptional circumstances.
Read more
Dec 8
2015

Consider releasing information on compassionate grounds

Institution
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Section of the Act
19
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: The RCMP refused, under section 19, to release information related to a workplace accident that resulted in a death.

Investigation: After investigating the matter, the Information Commissioner recommended that the RCMP release the information on compassionate grounds.

Outcome: In response to this recommendation, the RCMP consulted the Office of the Privacy Commissioner on the matter. The requester, a relative of the deceased, subsequently received additional records from the RCMP.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • The exception to section 19 contained in paragraph 8(2)(m) of the Privacy Act allows institutions to disclose information, when doing so would be in the public interest and would clearly outweigh the invasion of privacy of the deceased.
  • The Information Commissioner recommends that institutions consider releasing information about a deceased individual to family members on compassionate grounds whenever appropriate.
Read more
Dec 8
2015

Factual information does not qualify for exemption under section 21

Institution
Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada
Section of the Act
21
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada cited section 21 when withholding large portions of communications and briefing materials about the posting of partisan letters on the website of the former Canadian International Development Agency.

Investigation: The OIC found that some of the withheld information, including factual details, did not qualify for section 21. In addition, the institution had treated the information inconsistently, redacting it in certain places and disclosing it in others. Outcome: In response to the Information Commissioner’s recommendations, the institution provided more information to the requester.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • There is a public interest in protecting information related to policy- and decision-making to ensure officials can provide full, free and frank advice to the government.
  • However, the exemption for “advice, etc.” in subsection 21(1) does not extend to objective, factual information.
Read more
Dec 8
2015

Background information does not qualify for exemption under section 21

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

Complaint: Citing section 21, Environment Canada exempted large portions of a briefing note to the Minister of the Environment about whether to continue funding the Canadian Environmental Network.

Investigation: The institution argued that most of the information was advice and recommendations to the Minister. However, the OIC found that not all the information qualified for the exemption and recommended the institution complete a detailed review of the records.

Outcome: Environment Canada reconsidered its use of section 21 and released additional information, including background information and contextual material.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • The exemption for “advice, etc.” in subsection 21(1) does not extend to objective, factual information such as background explanations.
  • There is a public interest in protecting information related to policy- and decision-making to ensure officials can provide full, free and frank advice to the government.
  • When exercising their discretion, officials must also consider the public interest in releasing this kind of information so citizens can hold the government to account.
Read more
Dec 8
2015

Release of procedural information unlikely to harm law enforcement

Institution
Canada Revenue Agency
Section of the Act
16
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) refused to release two pages of instructions for preparing letters it had sent to registered charities reminding them of limits on their political activities.

Investigation: The institution cited section 16, noting that disclosing the instructions would prejudice future enforcement of the Income Tax Act. However, the OIC found that CRA could not substantiate the harm that could occur if procedural information of this type were disclosed.

Outcome: CRA subsequently released the two pages to the requester.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • Institutions withholding information under section 16 must be able to demonstrate how disclosure could genuinely injure its law enforcement activities.
Read more
Dec 8
2015

Third-party consultations must take place in writing

Institution
Public-Private Partnerships Canada
Section of the Act
20
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: Citing section 20, Public-Private Partnerships Canada (PPP Canada) refused access to records about its dealings with Geo Group Inc., a provider of correctional and other services.

Investigation: The OIC learned that Geo Group had said, when consulted by PPP Canada, that the information was proprietary and that releasing it would damage the company’s ability to market its services. However, this consultation had been done by telephone, contrary to the process for consulting third parties set out in section 27.

Outcome: As a result of the investigation, PPP Canada undertook a proper consultation, decided that some of the information should, in fact, be released and then, at further urging from the OIC to reconsider its position, released all but a small amount of the requested information.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • Under section 27, institutions must advise third parties in writing of their intention to disclose records that relate to them and give them the opportunity to state their position on the proposed disclosure.
  • The Supreme Court of Canada has noted that third-party information may often need to be protected (Merck Frosst Canada Ltd. v Canada (Health), 2012 SCC 3 at para. 2).
  • At the same time, dealings with private sector entities should be as transparent as possible for accountability reasons.
Read more
Dec 8
2015

Claiming section 20 requires evidence that commercial harm could occur

Institution
Financial Consumer Agency of Canada
Section of the Act
20
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada claimed section 20 to withhold 100 of 106 pages of a study about the communications habits of new Canadians and urban Indigenous people.

Investigation: The institution withheld the information based on the view of the firm that prepared the study that the exempted information was proprietary and releasing it would harm its commercial interests. However, the institution could not substantiate the expected harm.

Outcome: The institution agreed to ask the third party to reconsider its position and, subsequently, released additional information.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • Institutions withholding information under a claim of commercial harm must demonstrate that disclosure could genuinely harm the third party’s interests.
Read more
Dec 8
2015

Involvement in public event unlikely to harm efforts to suppress hostile activities

Institution
Canadian Security Intelligence Service
Section of the Act
15
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) withheld under section 15 the amount it had contributed to a conference and the annual budget of its academic outreach program.

Investigation: The OIC found that CSIS did not show that releasing the information could reasonably be expected to injure its efforts to detect, prevent or suppress subversive or hostile activities. Moreover, CSIS’s logo had appeared on the conference program, which was posted on the Internet, so the institution’s involvement in the event was publicly known.

Outcome: CSIS agreed to release the amount of its contribution to the conference but not the budget figures.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • When applying section 15, institutions must be able to demonstrate how releasing information could genuinely harm the conduct of international affairs or, as in this case, the detection, prevention or suppression of subversive or hostile activities.
Read more
Dec 8
2015

Legal opinion’s age and historical significance favour its disclosure

Institution
Library and Archives Canada
Section of the Act
23
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: Library and Archives Canada claimed section 23 to withhold records related to government preparations for a Supreme Court hearing on why a soldier had been detained and sent to prison on charges of refusing to obey orders.

Investigation: The pages at issue comprised a 1918 legal opinion from the Department of Justice. The legal opinion referred to case law, some of which dated to the 1800s, and two repealed statutes. Having determined that the legal advice privilege applied, Library and Archives Canada did not then consider discretionary factors that would have favoured releasing the legal opinion.

Outcome: In response to the Information Commissioner’s formal recommendation, the records were disclosed.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • When claiming the legal advice privilege, institutions must consider all relevant factors for and against disclosure, including, as in this case, the age and historical significance of the information, before deciding to withhold it.
Read more
Date modified:
Submit a complaint