Decisions

125 decisions found

Dec 8
2015

Release of procedural information unlikely to harm law enforcement

Institution
Canada Revenue Agency
Section of the Act
16
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) refused to release two pages of instructions for preparing letters it had sent to registered charities reminding them of limits on their political activities.

Investigation: The institution cited section 16, noting that disclosing the instructions would prejudice future enforcement of the Income Tax Act. However, the OIC found that CRA could not substantiate the harm that could occur if procedural information of this type were disclosed.

Outcome: CRA subsequently released the two pages to the requester.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • Institutions withholding information under section 16 must be able to demonstrate how disclosure could genuinely injure its law enforcement activities.
Read more
Dec 8
2015

Third-party consultations must take place in writing

Institution
Public-Private Partnerships Canada
Section of the Act
20
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: Citing section 20, Public-Private Partnerships Canada (PPP Canada) refused access to records about its dealings with Geo Group Inc., a provider of correctional and other services.

Investigation: The OIC learned that Geo Group had said, when consulted by PPP Canada, that the information was proprietary and that releasing it would damage the company’s ability to market its services. However, this consultation had been done by telephone, contrary to the process for consulting third parties set out in section 27.

Outcome: As a result of the investigation, PPP Canada undertook a proper consultation, decided that some of the information should, in fact, be released and then, at further urging from the OIC to reconsider its position, released all but a small amount of the requested information.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • Under section 27, institutions must advise third parties in writing of their intention to disclose records that relate to them and give them the opportunity to state their position on the proposed disclosure.
  • The Supreme Court of Canada has noted that third-party information may often need to be protected (Merck Frosst Canada Ltd. v Canada (Health), 2012 SCC 3 at para. 2).
  • At the same time, dealings with private sector entities should be as transparent as possible for accountability reasons.
Read more
Dec 8
2015

Claiming section 20 requires evidence that commercial harm could occur

Institution
Financial Consumer Agency of Canada
Section of the Act
20
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada claimed section 20 to withhold 100 of 106 pages of a study about the communications habits of new Canadians and urban Indigenous people.

Investigation: The institution withheld the information based on the view of the firm that prepared the study that the exempted information was proprietary and releasing it would harm its commercial interests. However, the institution could not substantiate the expected harm.

Outcome: The institution agreed to ask the third party to reconsider its position and, subsequently, released additional information.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • Institutions withholding information under a claim of commercial harm must demonstrate that disclosure could genuinely harm the third party’s interests.
Read more
Dec 8
2015

Involvement in public event unlikely to harm efforts to suppress hostile activities

Institution
Canadian Security Intelligence Service
Section of the Act
15
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) withheld under section 15 the amount it had contributed to a conference and the annual budget of its academic outreach program.

Investigation: The OIC found that CSIS did not show that releasing the information could reasonably be expected to injure its efforts to detect, prevent or suppress subversive or hostile activities. Moreover, CSIS’s logo had appeared on the conference program, which was posted on the Internet, so the institution’s involvement in the event was publicly known.

Outcome: CSIS agreed to release the amount of its contribution to the conference but not the budget figures.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • When applying section 15, institutions must be able to demonstrate how releasing information could genuinely harm the conduct of international affairs or, as in this case, the detection, prevention or suppression of subversive or hostile activities.
Read more
Dec 8
2015

Legal opinion’s age and historical significance favour its disclosure

Institution
Library and Archives Canada
Section of the Act
23
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: Library and Archives Canada claimed section 23 to withhold records related to government preparations for a Supreme Court hearing on why a soldier had been detained and sent to prison on charges of refusing to obey orders.

Investigation: The pages at issue comprised a 1918 legal opinion from the Department of Justice. The legal opinion referred to case law, some of which dated to the 1800s, and two repealed statutes. Having determined that the legal advice privilege applied, Library and Archives Canada did not then consider discretionary factors that would have favoured releasing the legal opinion.

Outcome: In response to the Information Commissioner’s formal recommendation, the records were disclosed.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • When claiming the legal advice privilege, institutions must consider all relevant factors for and against disclosure, including, as in this case, the age and historical significance of the information, before deciding to withhold it.
Read more
Dec 8
2015

Legal fee totals tend to be neutral information

Institution
Blue Water Bridge Canada
Section of the Act
23
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: Blue Water Bridge Canada withheld in its entirety a cover letter and statement of account from a legal firm, citing section 23.

Investigation: The OIC disagreed that solicitor-client privilege applied to the cover letter and urged the institution to release the total fees billed (such as appeared on the statement of account), since disclosing them would not reveal information subject to solicitor-client privilege.

Outcome: The institution released both the cover letter and the billing totals.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • Certain administrative information, such as the total or aggregate amount billed on a legal matter, tends to be neutral information that would not lead to any privileged information being revealed. This kind of information should be disclosed.
  • This is also true of legal fee totals associated with ongoing litigation. The Department of Justice Canada attempted to withhold such information in two instances but released it following OIC investigations.
Read more
Dec 8
2015

When information is known to exist, subsection 10(2) does not apply

Institution
Justice Canada
Section of the Act
10(2)
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: The Department of Justice Canada declined to confirm or deny the existence of both a letter from the Costa Rican foreign minister and the institution’s response, as per subsection 10(2).

Investigation: The OIC learned that Costa Rican authorities had publicly acknowledged that the foreign minister had requested the information.

Outcome: The institution ceased to rely on subsection 10(2) and released the records to the requester, albeit with many exemptions applied.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • Generally, it is not reasonable for institutions to apply subsection 10(2) when the existence or non-existence of records is already known, as in this case.
  • Similarly, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development disclosed information it had previously declined to confirm or deny existed about the visit of a Canadian consular official to an internment camp in Afghanistan when the OIC found that the institution’s own public affairs group had released information about the visit.
Read more
Dec 8
2015

Embarrassing information does not constitute threat to safety

Institution
Canada Revenue Agency
Section of the Act
17
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: The Canada Revenue Agency released a DVD containing video clips introducing various parts of the organization, but withheld one clip. This segment, which CRA said qualified for protection under section 17, showed various employees wearing Batman costumes.

Investigation: The institution was unable to provide evidence of the threat to the safety of the individuals depicted that would result if the video clip were released, as section 17 requires.

Outcome: CRA offered to allow the requester to view the clip on site. The requester refused but did agree to receive a copy of the segment with the employees’ faces blurred.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • Section 17 allows institutions to protect information whose disclosure could reasonably be expected to threaten the safety of a person. Merely embarrassing information does not meet this test.
  • When claiming this exemption, institutions must show that the harm described in the provision could occur.
Read more
May 14
2015

Investigation into an access to information request for the Long-gun Registry

Institution
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Section of the Act
30(1)(f)
Decision Type
systemic investigation
Summary

The request at the basis of the complaint was made to the RCMP on March 27, 2012, before the coming into force of the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act. It requested access to the Firearms Registry database.

The requester filed a complaint with the Office of the Information Commissioner after receiving a response from the RCMP alleging that:

  1. That the information provided was incomplete (missing both columns and registrations);
  2. That the RCMP did not justify the incomplete response;
  3. That by destroying the responsive records, the RCMP obstructed his right of access, pursuant to section 67.1 of the Act.
Read more
Jun 5
2014

Length of extensions must reflect number of pages being sent for consultation

Institution
Natural Resources Canada
Section of the Act
9(1)
Decision Type
notable investigation
Summary

Complaint: Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) took a 300-day time extension to consult with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) about requested briefing notes.

Investigation: NRCan sent just seven pages to DFATD for review. In addition, NRCan set the extension at 300 days even though it had not yet contacted DFATD to get an approximate return date. NRCan said it did so because, in its experience, DFATD did not always meet its promised deadlines.

Outcome: The consultations were ultimately completed in 51 days. NRCan responded to the request several months before the extended due date.

Information Commissioner’s position:

  • Institutions must take into account the number of pages of records responsive to requests and the number being sent for consultation when determining the length of time extensions under paragraph 9(1)(b).
  • In this case, the extension of 300 days was well beyond what was needed to consult DFATD on seven pages of records and to complete the processing of the request.
  • The extension was contrary to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat requirement that extensions be as short as possible. The extension likewise went against institutions’ duty to provide timely access to information, as set out in subsection 4(2.1).
Read more
Date modified:
Submit a complaint