Information too vague to cause competitive harm

Complaint: VIA Rail declined to release information about where passengers got on and off trains, claiming that doing so could jeopardize the company’s competitive position.

Investigation: The OIC analyzed this claim with reference to subsection 18.1, which allows VIA Rail, among other institutions, to withhold information to protect its economic interests.

Outcome: The OIC was not convinced that the information VIA Rail had withheld was detailed enough to cause any competitive harm if it had been disclosed. Therefore, the institution could not rely on this claim as a factor weighing in favour of protecting the information. VIA Rail accepted the OIC’s analysis and now releases this type of information in its entirety.

Information Commissioner’s position

  • Institutions withholding information under a claim of competitive harm must assess whether competitors’ having access to the information in question could genuinely harm the institution’s competitive position.
  • Based on the information at issue in this case, competitors could not have, for example, done the following:
    • determined VIA Rail’s profitability;
    • offered alternative transportation services for better prices on VIA Rail’s busiest routes or on routes that had seen an increase in customers over the years;
    • offered options or promotions to targeted customers at the right place or right time to gain a higher market share; or
    • obtained favourable leases or tariffs at the conclusion of existing Railway Service Agreements.
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