Institutions should not automatically withhold irrelevant information

Complaint: The Privy Council Office (PCO) told a requester that the records it had retrieved in response to a request were, in fact, not relevant and that no records would be disclosed.

Investigation: The OIC learned that the records were handwritten notes. However, it did not agree with PCO that these were not relevant because they were not “transcripts” or “minutes,” which is what the requester had asked for.

Outcome: PCO agreed to process the records.

Information Commissioner’s position

  • By narrowly interpreting the wording of the request, PCO failed in its duty to assist. PCO should have told the requester about the notes and asked him whether he wanted them to be processed.
  • In another instance, PCO removed portions of records relating to training of members of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s board of directors. Institutions should not withhold information that is considered not relevant to a request when found in the same record as relevant information. PCO reviewed the records again and released additional information.
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