The Information Commissioner of Canada v. The Executive Director of the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board and NAV CANADA
Closed Expands Expression
- Mode of Expression
Electronic / Internet-based Communication, Public Documents
- Date of Decision
May 1, 2006
Access to Information Granted
- Case Number
- Region & Country
Canada, North America
- Judicial Body
- Type of Law
Commercial Confidentiality, Privacy, Private entities, RTI law
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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 Right2Info.org.
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.
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 indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
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 demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Table of Authorities
National standards, law or jurisprudence
- Can., Access to Information Act, sec. 42(1)(a)
- Can., Access to Information Act, sec. 20(1)(b)
- Can., Privacy Act, sec. 3
- Can., Privacy Act, sec. 19
- Can., Dagg v. Canada (Minister of Finance),  2 S.C.R. 403
- Can., Civil Air Navigation Services Commercialization Act, sec. 9
- Can., Canada Corporations Act, Part II
- Can., Sabourin Estate v. Watterodt Estate, 213 B.C.A.C. 301 (C.A.) (2005)
- Can., Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act, sec. 28
- Can., Access to Information Act, sec. 24
- Can., Canada (Information Commissioner) v. Canada (Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police),  SCC 8
- Can., H. J. Heinz Co. of Canada Ltd. v. Canada (Attorney General),  1 S.C.R. 441
Other national standards, law or jurisprudence
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
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