Institutions must review records before exempting them

Complaint: The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) cited various exemptions to withhold information contained in documents sent or received by the Canadian embassy in Mexico about a businessman killed in Acapulco.

Investigation: The investigation revealed that DFATD routinely advises embassies not to provide consular files in response to access requests. In its view, these files are exempt under subsection 19(1) in their entirety.

Outcome: DFATD processed the records at the Information Commissioner’s request and subsequently released an additional 195 pages.

Information Commissioner’s position

  • The complaint was well founded, since DFATD had not initially retrieved or processed all the records.
  • The Federal Court of Appeal confirmed that records must be reviewed to ensure proper processing (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation v. Information Commissioner of Canada, 2011 FCA 326).
  • A failure to retrieve records jeopardizes the rights the Act confers, since there is a risk the program area could dispose of records not properly identified.
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