Exemptions must be applied in a limited and specific manner

Complaint: Public Service and Procurement Canada (PSPC) refused to disclose the majority of an agreement it had signed with SNC-Lavalin, citing paragraph 20(1)(b) and subsection 18(b). The agreement set out conditions the company had to meet to continue to receive government contracts.

Investigation: The OIC determined that only a few clauses and part of one schedule met the requirements of paragraph 20(1)(b) and subsection 18(b)—that is, that they were SNC-Lavalin’s confidential commercial information and that disclosing them could interfere with PSPC’s contractual or other negotiations.

Outcome: PSPC released the majority of the agreement.

Information Commissioner’s position

  • PSPC applied the exemption for third-party commercial information far too broadly, protecting, for example, information that SNC-Lavalin itself had made public.
  • The OIC only accepted in a few instances PSPC’s claim that other companies could strategize whether operating under such agreements could still be profitable if they were to know the extent of each clause of the agreement and PSPC’s flexibility.
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