When the Media Calls
Every once in a while, a journalist or some other individual will call my office to ask whether a review had been started on a particular request for information or investigation launched into a privacy breach. The policy of this office is to not immediately confirm that a request for review or specific privacy investigation is underway, so time can be taken to consider the privacy and confidentiality obligations that my office has under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ss. 46 and 53). One consideration is that the name of the applicant is personal information and should not be shared without the requisite need-to-know. I may nonetheless exercise my discretion as Commissioner in certain cases and confirm basic details (i.e., investigation file has been opened).
I think a bit more on the process may make it clearer what is going on behind the scenes once a review or investigation is underway. Briefly, for example, when Intake Officers of this office receive a request for review, they contact the parties and attempt to see if the matter can be settled. Will the applicant narrow his or her request? Will the public body re-visit part or all of its decision to withhold information, reduce a fee or take any steps to provide the applicants with some or part of the information requested? If the matter cannot be settled, a letter notifying the public body, any engaged third party and the applicant that a review has started is sent and an Analyst is assigned. Staff request the public body to provide a copy of the records at issue, index of the records and its submission as to why it is withholding records. Upon receipt of those documents, the Analyst proceeds with the review, asks questions of the public body and if necessary, interviews people and makes a site visit. Once this stage is completed, the final report is prepared, sent to the parties and posted on our website. The name of the applicant is not included in the public report. The public body has 30 days to advise me whether it will comply with the recommendations. After that, the applicant or a third party have 30 days to appeal to the Court of King’s Bench.
You can see a diagram showing the process by clicking here.
It is a pretty straight-forward process, and my office makes every attempt to move the process along quickly so that parties get their decisions as soon as possible. Our goal is to resolve matters within 30 days or issue a report, on average, within 180 days. In certain instances where the public body has failed to issue a section 7 decision, or the applicant is requesting a review of the fee quoted or fee waiver decision, it is our objective to issue the report, on average, within 90 days. I ask all that work with us to help us reach this goal.