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Take access to information requests seriously

I recently read a case coming out of the Alberta Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner dealing with an access to information request. Though this was a case dealing with a public body, the principle applies to any information request: there was simply no reason to deny the disclosure of information.

The applicant asked for very specific information, and even acknowledged that he had no right to any personal information. He wanted some commencement and termination dates of group health plan coverage. The public body said no. He brought the matter to the privacy commissioner.

The public body argued that the information in the records constituted “personal information”, so the public body was exempt under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act from having to provide the information. It also argued that the disclosure of the information would reveal trade secrets of a third party, or commercial, financial, labour relations, scientific or technical information of a third party.

The decision was clear: while the records did contain some personal information, that information could be severed, and the public body could provide all of the information the applicant requested. Further, the adjudicator could find no reason that the information requested would reveal trade secrets or harm the competitive or negotiating position of the third party.

The public body was ordered to release the information requested by the applicant as there was no reason to refuse to provide the information.

This case sends a clear message to all businesses who receive an access to information request. Take it seriously, and respond accordingly. If the information requested is not exempted under the Act, it must be provided, even if that means a record must be severed to accommodate the request.

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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