“Misused” word not enough to withhold information: privacy commissioner

Saskatchewan’s privacy commissioner has determined the City of Prince Albert violated the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) while fulfilling an access to information request in January.

According to the report, the city incorrectly applied parts of sections 16 and 18 of the act, which governs what information cities are allowed to withhold while fulfilling requests, in a response filed on Jan. 12.

The original request was made on Dec. 15, 2017, when the city received a submission asking for information on a Wireless Communication Equipment Tender from 2017. Ronald Kruzeniski, Saskatchewan’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, ruled that certain parts of an email chain between city administrators were incorrectly withheld.

Under the privacy act, cities are allowed to withhold emails about tenders for a number of reasons, such as the emails containing financial, commercial, scientific, technical or labour relations information from a third party, or if the information was made available in confidence.

Typically, emails between city employees discussing tenders fall under that second category. However there was confusion with one email after the city claimed an employee “misused” a word, which altered how the sentence was interpreted. The city argued that the sentence constituted an opinion on the tender, which meant they couldn’t to make it available to the public. The privacy commissioner disagreed.

“Subsection 16(1)(b) of LA (local authority) FOIP is not meant to cover the recitation of facts. It is also not meant to cover the misuse of words,” Kruzeniski wrote in his report, which was released on June 29. “Misusing a word does not change a fact to an opinion. It also does not change a fact to a consultation or deliberation as defined above.”

Kruzeniski added that city was correct to withhold other information, such as unit prices and entire tender bid forms. He recommended that the city release all three emails, while severing the unit prices and another sentence containing an opinion on a third party tender.

The privacy commissioner also recommended that “the City and other public bodies make it clear, in a bidding process, whether all bids will be received explicitly in confidence.”

When contacted about the issue, Mayor Greg Dionne said he hadn’t had time to read the entire privacy commissioner report. City manager Jim Toye was unavailable for comment.

Thierman Financial