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.
TheStar.com 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 http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/arti
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