Treading Lightly Around Privacy Laws in Canada
Elizabeth Denham, British Columbia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, is expressing concern that privacy laws are widely misunderstood by public and government agencies and can hinder the release of important information.
In a recently released Investigation Report, Denham states her belief that parts of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“FIPPA”) can be difficult to interpret and apply. She explains that the report was issued to help public bodies discern the basis for disclosure of information that is of public interest.
Her report points out concerns that public bodies are not properly trained or even aware of the duty to inform residents about potential dangers that have been the subject of examination.
“I’m concerned that public bodies don’t understand the mandatory nature of their duty to warn,” Denham stated recently. “It’s not discretionary and it applies to all public bodies from school boards to municipalities to health authorities to all government ministries. Twenty years in and I am concerned the public bodies don’t have the policies, the awareness, the training about the mandatory nature of this.”
Denham makes a recommendation in the report for public bodies to develop policies that provide guidance to staff regarding their obligations under FIPPA.