I came across a Federal Court case that was released a little while ago, and it concerned an access request made pursuant to the Privacy Act. The judgment is a scathing criticism of how officials within the Royal Canadian Mounted Police ignored their obligations and left several people without any meaningful remedies.
The applicant in the case was self-represented and most likely didn’t realize the intricacies involved in litigating Privacy Act cases brought to court. Let’s just say that the rules, precedents and law itself are not conducive to people obtaining anything near reasonable remedies when they are wronged. In this case, the applicant had no hope he’d win, but nonetheless, the judge thought it was important to try and send a message that the government’s behavior was atrocious. In the end, while he lost the case, he was awarded $200 for his troubles.
Back in the late 1970s and early '80s, Canada was fiercely proud of the access to information and protection of privacy regime it had come up with. After reading this case, one cannot imagine a system that is more broken. It’s shameful.
Of the many illustrations of the broken system that the case stands for is the whole idea of deemed refusals. This happens under the law when the deadline for replying to an access request for personal information is missed or ignored. Essentially, no one has the power to do anything meaningful when this occurs, and, apparently, it is happening at alarming rates. The commissioners can do nothing but write up their recommendations — which, apparently, are also ignored. A commissioner’s investigation can often take up to a year and then a requester is left with no choice but to begin lengthy and complicated litigation. All the government has to do to win that litigation is release something in the interim. It doesn’t have to be complete, accurate or legitimate. All they have to do is release anything, and they win the litigation and the requestor is left with no meaningful remedy. Wouldn’t it be good to fix this?
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