Maximizing public accountability must figure in decisions about discretion
Complaint: The Department of Justice Canada withheld under section 23 the total number of hours its lawyers had spent preparing and litigating a court case on behalf of the Canada Revenue Agency.
Investigation: The records included the amount of time spent and the tasks performed by each lawyer, and their names. At the OIC’s urging, the institution agreed to release various document headings but still refused to release the total number of hours.
Outcome: Following a formal request from the OIC for written reasons why it was continuing to withhold the information, the institution disclosed the total hours.
Information Commissioner’s position
- When applying the solicitor-client privilege exemption, institutions should keep in mind that when the client is a government institution the fees are paid out of public funds.
- In these circumstances, institutions must not claim exemptions too broadly and must properly exercise their discretion to release the information in order to maximize public accountability.