Narrow interpretation of requests can limit right of access

Complaint: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) withheld portions of records relating to the reimbursement of a senior official for fees for tuition, books and other materials.

Investigation: The OIC learned that the CBC had not retrieved or processed any records specifically related to the reimbursement of the tuition fees because no such records existed; the CBC had paid the fees directly to the university.

Outcome: The complainant obtained the information after making a new request.

Information Commissioner’s position

  • When the requester asked for information relating to the reimbursement of tuition fees, it should have been obvious that he wanted to know how much the CBC spent for the course. He could not have known that the CBC had paid the university directly.
  • By interpreting the request so narrowly, CBC failed to consider and respect section 2, which sets out that the Act is intended to extend the right of access based on the principle that government information should be available to the public.
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