Tag Archives: administrative law

Transparency, open courts and administrative tribunals: implications of Toronto Star v AG Ontario

19 Oct

Here’s some commentary I submitted in support of my panel appearance on Wednesday at the above-named OBA conference.

It appears there are not too many fans of the Toronto Star decision among administrative tribunal practitioners, though the tribunals themselves seem to be more ambivalent. I’m among those who don’t like the policy implications of Toronto Star. For insight please read my commentary.

On Wednesday I spoke about the practical impact of practicing under truly presumptive, court-like openness in which no adjudicative decision (with due process rights) stands between a requester and a client’s filings. In short, it will invite the application of a new analysis prior to making any filing. What in here is confidential? Can I compromise – making my client’s case without it? At what cost? Is it better to seek a confidentiality order of some sort? At what cost? Does the media require notice of my motion? At what cost? Did I mention cost?

I encouraged tribunal staff in attendance to think about how critical a concern privacy has become and how individuals expect and are owed, at a minimum, due process. In my view requiring applications for access (made on notice) is a model for access that’s more consistent with the object of administrative justice – specialized, low cost, accessible justice.

Advertisements

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).

 

Sask CA says Commissioner’s request for privileged communications unnecessary

18 May

On May 16th the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan held that the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, Saskatchewan should not have required the University of Saskatchewan to produce communications that it claimed were subject to solicitor-client privilege.

The Commissioner began by inviting the University to provide evidence that supported its privilege claim. The University filed an affidavit from a non-lawyer stating that legal counsel had advised that “some” of the withheld documents are subject to solicitor-client privilege. It did not file an index of records.

This led the Commissioner to immediately request the records. Although the Commissioner had asked the University for a index of records, it did not ask again – an omission that the Court held to breach the principle that demands an adjudicator only review solicitor-client communications when absolutely necessary to assess a privilege claim.

This fact-specific decision illustrates how strictly the absolute necessity principle will be enforced. The Court also spoke about what privilege claimants ought to be required to present in support of their claims. In doing so, it suggested that an index that identifies records will ordinarily provide an adequate basis for assessing a privilege claim in the absence of any evidence suggesting a claim is “ill founded”.

University of Saskatchewan v Saskatchewan (Information privacy Commissioner), 2018 SKCA 34.

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.

Div Ct. quashes IPC decision for failure to identify PI under consideration

22 Dec

On December 18th, the Divisional Court quashed an IPC/Ontario order that affirmed a municipal institution’s decision to apply the public interest override in disclosing an internal investigation report. The Court held that the IPC erred by not identifying the personal information under consideration in its reasons:

[67]           The Commissioner is essentially asking this court to undertake the detailed analysis of the information in the Report described above, decide what portions of the Report fall within the s. 14 personal information exemption, and then assess the reasonableness of the Commissioner’s application of the s. 16 test based on that conclusion.  That is not the role of this court.  That complex analysis goes beyond supplementing the reasons.   It amounts to asking this court to review the reasonableness of the Commissioner’s decision based on our own assessment of what was exempted under s. 14 rather than based on what the Commissioner decided was exempted.

[68]           Given the acknowledged need to disclose only that portion of the exempted information that meets the s. 16 “clearly outweighs” balancing test, each piece of personal information that is exempted under s. 14 must form part of the analysis that the section requires.  In this case, we do not know what the Commissioner was weighing as against the public interest.  This is not a matter of considering what reasons could be offered in support of the decision; it is a matter of not knowing what his decision was on that complex issue, which is prerequisite to the application of s. 16.  This is especially important in regard to the application of s.16 because the public interest override, which is rarely used, can have a major impact on individuals whose personal information would normally be protected by a statutory exemption.

Barker v. Ontario (Information and Privacy Commissioner), 2017 ONSC 7564 (CanLII).

Tribunal errs by ordering disclosure without redaction – right to redaction?

18 Dec

On November 28th the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal held that the Nova Scotia Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal erred by ordering the disclosure of a worker’s entire file without redaction.

The matter was about a workplace safety insurance claim, and particularly whether a worker’s condition was caused by his work. The Tribunal made the order in response to an employer’s objection to various redactions made to a set of records in the possession of the Workers Compensation Board. Although the employer argued the redacted information was relevant, the Tribunal ordered the unredacted file to be produced because it lacked the resources to vet for relevance, because fairness and the “ebb and flow” of a hearing supported full disclosure and because of the difficulty in making relevance determinations.

Despite the obvious appearance of laziness, the Tribunal framed its decision as rooted in procedural fairness. In response, the Court said: “…there is no principle of procedural fairness… that a litigant who requests disclosure is entitled to see every document it requests, regardless of relevance and without a relevance ruling by an impartial arbiter.”

Implicit in this statement is a concern for the worker’s privacy interest. The Tribunal had recognized this interest in a policy manual that it disregarded in making its order, though there are aspects of the Court’s reasoning that suggest a more broadly based right to redaction.

The Court gave this guidance on how to vet for relevance:

The person who vets for relevance must keep in mind that material should be disclosed for its connection to the “proposition[s] being advanced” by the parties, to borrow Justice Rothstein’s phrase, and not merely to justify an anticipated conclusion on the merits of those propositions. The vetting official may not be able to foretell precisely how the evidence will be martialed. So the ambit of disclosure should allow the parties some elbow room to strategize for the engagement.

Baker v. Nova Scotia (Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal), 2017 NSCA 83.

Arbitrator issues principled decision on identification of grievors and other complainants

17 Nov

On September 5th, Arbitrator Abramsky dismissed a motion to anonymize the name of an individual who had grieved harassment, discrimination and a reprisal.

In  making its request, the Union rested heavily on the fact the grievance would invite the disclosure of the grievor’s medical information – information about a learning disability and back problems. It also argued that no purpose would be served by publication of the grievor’s identity.

Ms. Abramsky held that the open court principle applied to the statutory tribunal for whom she was sitting (the GSB in Ontario) and that openness was therefore presumed absent a “compelling reason.” In doing so, she endorsed the following statement about the identification of individuals who file serious complaints:

This rationale – that litigants who make serious accusations should not do so “from behind a veil of anonymity, assured that they will not be identified if they are found not to be credible, their allegations are rejected” – has significant resonance.  It is very easy to make serious assertions and claims.  When doing so – and pursuing such a claim – litigants should not be able to hide behind anonymity, absent a compelling reason to allow it.  Confidence in the administration of justice – and the open court principle – requires it.

Ms. Abramsky also held that medical information can vary in sensitivity and that, in the circumstances, anonymization was not justified.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (Cull) v Ontario (Health and Long-Term Care), 2017 CanLII 71798 (ON GSB).