Background information does not quality for exemption under section 21

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.
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