Star wins landmark court fight over records - FIPA - BC Freedom of

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Star wins landmark court fight over records - FIPA - BC Freedom of Powered By Docstoc
					Star wins 'landmark' court fight over records
Jan. 13, 2009: The court of appeal overturns the divisional court ruling, restoring IPC order.
Appeals court backs Star's freedom of information request
January 14, 2009                              Writing on behalf of the panel              technology was allowed to be a barrier
Tracey Tyler                               yesterday, Justice Michael Moldaver            to access to information."
LEGAL AFFAIRS REPORTER                     said "the prevalence of computers in             The battle isn't necessarily over.                                today's society" and their use by              Police could still rely on other
                                           government institutions "as the primary        exemptions in the law as a basis for
Municipal government institutions must     means by which records are kept" must          refusing to provide the information.
produce any electronically stored          be borne in mind in determining the            They could also attempt to appeal to
information the public has a right to      breadth of public access to electronically     the Supreme Court of Canada.
see, even if it requires using their       stored data.                                     Smith, the police lawyer, told the
technical expertise to develop new            Given those realities, the public's right   Star yesterday the next step will be up
software, the Ontario Court of Appeal      to obtain this kind of information must be     to the police services board.
has ruled.                                 interpreted liberally, said Moldaver.
  In a 3-0 decision yesterday, the court   Justices Robert Sharpe and Robert Blair        SIX-YEAR QUEST
ordered the Toronto Police Services        agreed.
Board to respond "immediately" to             The decision quashes an earlier             The Star's freedom of information
requests from Star reporter Jim Rankin     ruling from the Divisional Court, which,       request is ongoing:
for information stored in two electronic   in effect, said the public can only
                                                                                          Oct. 2002: The Star publishes its
databases, documenting contacts            access electronic government records
                                                                                          "Race & Crime" series.
between citizens and police.               if they can be produced using the kind
  Yesterday's decision marks the first     of software on which the municipal             May 26, 2003: The Star files two
time the court has ruled on the scope      institution normally relies.                   freedom of information requests for
of the public's and the media's right to      A Divisional Court panel concluded          updated police data.
access electronic records held by          last year that Frank DeVries, an
                                                                                          July 21, 2003: The Toronto police
municipal government institutions          adjudicator with Ontario's Information
                                                                                          service denies the requests.
through freedom of information             and Privacy Commissioner, erred by
requests, said Tony Wong, a lawyer         failing to consider whether the police         Aug. 9, 2003: The Star appeals to the
representing the Star.                     would have to reformat the information         Information and Privacy
  "This is an issue of substantial         before releasing it.                           Commissioner.
importance," said Wendy Matheson, a           The reasonableness of DeVries's
                                           decision was the central issue before          Nov. 7, 2005: The commissioner rules
lawyer representing the Canadian Civil                                                    in favour of the Star.
Liberties Association, which               the Court of Appeal. Rejecting the
intervened in the case.                    Divisional Court's findings, Moldaver          Dec. 8, 2005: The service requests a
  "In today's society, electronic          said DeVries's reasons indicate he             stay, pending a court review.
recordkeeping is commonplace."             was well aware police would need to
                                           develop a new "algorithm" to extract           June 21, 2007: Divisional court rules
Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's Information                                                      in favour of the police.
and Privacy Commisioner, hailed            the requested information and that,
yesterday's decision as a "landmark"       under the legislation, the costs could         July 6, 2007: The Star and IPC
ruling that says principles of openness    be passed along to the Star.                   successfully seek leave to appeal.
and transparency apply to electronic          Significantly, Moldaver also said the
                                           Divisional Court's "narrow" interpretation     2008: The Canadian Civil Liberties
as well as paper records in the                                                           Association, Star and the police
govern-ment's possession.                  of availability of electronic records fails
                                           to consider the important public policy        service make their arguments before
  Rankin began seeking the                                                                Court of Appeal.
information in 2003 to test a Toronto      objectives of "access to information"
police claim that officers do not          laws and allows governments a way to           Jan. 13, 2009: The court of appeal
engage in racial profiling.                skirt requests for information. "On the        overturns the divisional court ruling,
  Police refused the request, saying it    Divisional Court's interpretation, access      restoring IPC order.
would be time-consuming and require        would be determined based upon the
the use of a special computer program      coincidence of whether the software  
to replace personal information, such      was already in use, regardless of how          cle/570620
as names, with numbers.                    easy or inexpensive it would be to
  Darrel Smith, a lawyer representing      develop," he said.
police, argued since the information          Speaking on behalf of the Civil
would have to be reformatted, the          Liberties Association, Matheson said
databases did not meet the definition      the court has recognized "we are in
of a publicly accessible "record" under    the information age" and "from the
the Municipal Freedom of Information       public interest standpoint, it would be
and Privacy Act.                           ironic and it would certainly defeat the
  The appeal court disagreed.              public interest if the use of computer

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