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Ont CA says doctor gross revenue information is not personal information

4 Aug

As reported widely, yesterday the Court of Appeal for Ontario affirmed an IPC/Ontario finding that gross revenue earned by Ontario’s top earning doctors was not their personal information.

There’s not much to the decision. (A number of the grounds for appeal were “optimistic.”) The decision illustrates that information must reveal something of a personal nature about an individual (in the relevant context) to be the individual’s personal information. In the doctors’ case, the link between gross income and the personal finances was not strong, as noted by the Court:

The information sought was the affected physicians’ gross revenue before allowable business expenses such as office, personnel, lab equipment, facility and hospital expenses. The evidence before the Adjudicator indicated, however, that, in the case of these 100 top billing physicians, those expenses were variable and considerable.

In another context, gross revenue information could be personal information. What is and is not personal information is a VERY contextual matter.

Ontario Medical Association v. Ontario (Information and Privacy Commissioner), 2018 ONCA 673.

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OCA says Children’s Lawyer records not under MAG’s custody or control

23 Jun

On June 18th the Court of Appeal for Ontario held that the Ministry of the Attorney General is not in custody or control of records in a Children’s Lawyer litigation file even though the Children’s Lawyer, for administrative purposes, is part of MAG. The finding turns on the Children’s Lawyer’s independence and the privacy interests of the children it represents. These kind of contextual factors are important to the custody or control analysis. As stated by the Court, “an organization’s administrative structure is not determinative of custody or control for purposes of FIPPA.”

This decision is consistent with other law that suggests records within an institution are not always in custody or control of an institution – e.g., certain faculty records and personal e-mails. Custody or control is therefore no simple concept to administer and is prone to dispute. At least for now IPC decisions will be subject to judicial review on the correctness standard, another (surprising) finding the Court of Appeal made in rendering its decision.

Ontario (Children’s Lawyer) v. Ontario (Information and Privacy Commissioner), 2018 ONCA 559 (CanLII).

 

Ontario Court says FOI statute fails in providing access to administrative tribunal records

29 Apr

Yesterday the Ontario Superior Court of Justice held that the Ontario Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act violates section 2(b) of the Charter because it goes too far to protect the privacy of parties, witnesses and others in matters heard by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, Ontario Labour Relations Boards and other statutory tribunals.

The Toronto Star brought the Charter application. It argued that the access regime created by FIPPA is too restrictive and too slow to meet its Charter-based right of access to “adjudicative records” – records of things filed before tribunals like pleadings and exhibits as well as tribunal decisions. A number of Ontario tribunals process requests for adjudicative records formally under FIPPA while others provide access more informally. The Star argued that the informal process must be the norm.

Justice Morgan allowed the application and declared that FIPPA violates the Charter by imposing a presumption of non-disclosure of “personal information” in adjudicative records. It is a puzzling decision for two reasons.

First, there is virtually no discussion about whether the open courts principle ought to apply to administrative tribunals. The Court’s application of the open courts principle appears to be derived from a provision requiring openness in the Statutory Powers Procedure Act:

All parties acknowledge that administrative hearings governed by the Statutory Powers Procedure Act (“SPPA”) are required to be open to the public. In principle, therefore, it is uncontroversial that “[t]he ‘open court’ principle” – at least in some version – “is a cornerstone of accountability for decision-making tribunals and courts.”

One might argue that the Court elevates a statutory presumption (which ought to be read in harmony with FIPPA) into a constitutional right. One might also argue that there are policy imperatives for administrative justice that weigh against recognition, in respect of tribunals, of the same level of openness that applies to courts – expediency and ease of access, for example. These two imperatives in particular are likely to suffer if administrative tribunal records are treated similarly to court records.

Second, the Court’s decision rests on what it says is a flawed “presumption of non-disclosure” – one that makes personal information in adjudicative records presumptively inaccessible. According to the Court this presumption arises out of the framing of FIPPA’s section 21 “unjustified invasion of privacy exemption,” which states that personal information shall be withheld unless its disclosure would not constitute an “unjustified invasion of privacy.”

It is too strong to call this a presumption, particularly in light of section 53 of FIPPA, which states, “Where a head refuses access to a record or a part of a record, the burden of proof that the record or the part falls within one of the specified exemptions in this Act lies upon the head.” To the contrary, all records in an institution’s custody or control are presumptively accessible under FIPPA, with limitations on the right of access dictated to be “limited and specific” as stipulated FIPPA’s purpose provision.

It’s quite arguable that FIPPA grants a right of access subject to a balancing of interests that has been carefully calibrated by the legislature and ultimately governed by an expert tribunal – the Information Privacy Commissioner/Ontario. Justice Morgan did not hide his views about the IPC, stating “In terms of the expertise of the institution heads and, in particular, the IPC, it is fair to say that the jury is still out. ”

 Toronto Star v. AG Ontario, 2018 ONSC 2586.

BCCA addresses public right of access to “a record of a question”

21 Apr

On April 13th, the Court of Appeal for British Columbia held that a rubric for an undergraduate admissions test administered by UBC was excluded from British Columbia’s public sector access and privacy act as a “record of a question.” It interpreted this phrase purposely, as encompassing “anything that is inregral to the question such that disclosure would defeat the purpose of the question for future use.”

University of British Columbia v. Lister, 2018 BCCA 139 (CanLII).

IPC decides on request for threat assessment records

22 Jul

On June 30th, the Information and Privacy Commissioner/Ontario issued an interim order regarding a request for records of a school board’s threat assessment process – a request made by the student who was the subject of the assessment. 

The IPC held that input given by student witnesses was exempt because its disclosure would constitute an unjustified invasion of privacy and that opinions expressed by members of the board’s threat assessment team were exempt because their disclosure could reasonably be expected to threaten the members’ safety. This is decision rests on the facts before the IPC in this case, though sets out a roadmap for shielding the most sensitive information in a threat assessment file.

The IPC decided to give notice to staff members before deciding whether information related to them (other than opinions) should be released. The matter continues. 

Toronto Catholic District School Board (Re), 2017 CanLII 45048 (ON IPC). 

Court affirms IPC decision on doctor payments

6 Jul

On June 30th, the Divisional Court affirmed an Information and Privacy Commissioner/Ontario decision that the amounts billed to OHIP by top billing doctors did not constitute the doctors’ personal information.

The Court’s decision is a standard of review decision – i.e., one that accepts the IPC’s decision as reasonable. Notably, the Court was influenced by an argument made by the doctors that (pre-expense) billing amounts do not fairly represent personal income yet could be misconstrued as such by the public. The answer to such arguments is an easy one for most FOI adjudicators and courts: provide an explanation to the public if you think you’ll be misunderstood. The Court didn’t say that in this case, but noted that the doctors’ argument was supportive of the IPC decision that their billing amounts were not revealing enough to be personal information.

Otherwise, the Court made short work of the doctors’ attempts to impugn the IPC’s reasoning and an argument that the IPC procedure gave rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias.

Ontario Medical Association v Ontario (Information and Privacy Commissioner), 2017 ONSC 4090 (CanLII).

FCA speaks on impact of a consent to disclose third-party information under the ATIA

5 Jul

On June 22nd, the Federal Court of Appeal ordered Public Works and Government Services Canada to re-determine an access request because it decided that a third-party’s consent to disclose its commercial information ruled out an exemption claim. 

The request was for personnel rates offered to government by a staffing company. The company agreed to a contract clause that the Court held constituted a consent to disclose the information to the public at large. 

The Court held that PWGSC erred by treating the clause as an “outright bar” to the company’s reliance on the third-party information exemptions in the Access to Information Act. It held that PWGSC ought to have first determined if any of the third-party exemptions applied and then considered whether or not to disclose the information because of the consent [thereby exercising the discretion granted in section 20(5)]. 

The decision also includes helpful dicta on the kind of evidence that third-parties must adduce to establish probable economic harm – dicta that supports an argument that the likelihood of harm can oftentimes be inferred from rather basic facts about the competitive context. (Rate or unit price information, in particular, is associated with some rather obvious potential harms.)

Canada (Office of the Information Commissioner) v. Calian Ltd., 2017 FCA 135 (CanLII).