Global Freedom of Expression

The Information Commissioner of Canada v. The Executive Director of the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board and NAV CANADA

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Electronic / Internet-based Communication, Public Documents
  • Date of Decision
    May 1, 2006
  • Outcome
    Access to Information Granted
  • Case Number
    A-165-05, A-304-05
  • Region & Country
    Canada, North America
  • Judicial Body
    Appellate Court
  • Type of Law
    Administrative Law
  • Themes
    Access to Public Information, Privacy, Data Protection and Retention
  • Tags
    Commercial Confidentiality, Private entities

Content Attribution Policy

Global Freedom of Expression is an academic initiative and therefore, we encourage you to share and republish excerpts of our content so long as they are not used for commercial purposes and you respect the following policy:

  • Attribute Columbia Global Freedom of Expression as the source.
  • Link to the original URL of the specific case analysis, publication, update, blog or landing page of the down loadable content you are referencing.

Attribution, copyright, and license information for media used by Global Freedom of Expression is available on our Credits page.

Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Canadian Federal Court of Appeal held that Air Traffic Control communications do not fall under the financial, commercial, scientific or technical information exemption because they do not constitute commercial or technical information. They are also not protected under the Privacy Act since communications themselves are not personal information.

This case analysis was contributed by


This is an appeal of a decision of the Federal Court dismissing four applications for judicial review brought by the Information Commissioner of Canada under Section 42(1)(a) of the Access to Information Act (ATI Act). The records at issue contained communications relating to four air occurrences that were subject to distinct investigations and public reports by the Safety Board. In each case, the requesters (three journalists and a legal representative of the estate of the deceased in one of the air accidents) sought access to recordings and/or transcripts of air traffic control communications (ATC communications) recorded by NAV CANADA, now under the control of the Safety Board. The government claimed that privacy exception 20(1)(b) in the ATI Act which protects confidential commercial, scientific or technical information supplied by a third party prevented disclosure and that the information was “personal” under the Privacy Act.

Decision Overview

The Court rejected NAV CANADA’s claim of exemption from disclosure. Para. 20(1)(b) of the ATI Act provides that certain types of financial, commercial, scientific or technical information consistently treated as confidential by a third party and handed by said party to a government institution are exempted from disclosure. Navigation services for a fee did not constitute commercial or technical information. While parts of the requested records could be technical, the entire record was not rendered technical just because a few parts could be. In addition, the record was not confidential, as required by the statute.

The Federal Court erred in concluding that the information requested constituted “personal information” under the Privacy Act. Privacy connotes concepts of “intimacy, identity, dignity, and integrity of the individual”. The information sought by requesters was not about particular individuals and the content of the communications did not involve subjects that engaged an individual’s right to privacy. The information was professional in nature and the values that the Privacy Law is meant to protect were not at stake. The ATC communications, when combined with other information, could be used to evaluate performance and delineate responsibilities in the accidents. However, absent any real personal content, that fact alone did not render the information private.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The decision expands expression by holding that communications about certain individuals were not exempt from disclosure because they did not include any personal information.

Global Perspective

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Official Case Documents


Have comments?

Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.

Send Feedback