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Yukon's information and privacy commissioner had to launch full investigation to get redacted docs from gov't

The Office of the Yukon Information and Privacy Commissioner, which recently completed an investigation report into a complaint against the Department of Justice about an access request, says it was forced to do more work than necessary to resolve the matter.

'The department refused to provide us with the information we needed in the early stages of our work'

Yukon Ombudsman, Information and Privacy Commissioner and Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay. (Alistair Maitland)

A Yukon government department once again refused to cooperate with the territory's information and privacy commissioner.

The Office of the Yukon Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) — which recently completed an investigation report into a complaint against the Department of Justice about an access request — says the office was forced to do more work than necessary to resolve the matter.

Last April, a person requested information related to a Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) Act investigation into them.

The SCAN act allows employees from the Department of Justice to investigate any complaints involving drug trafficking, bootlegging or prostitution at a property. In extreme cases, officers can work with landlords to evict tenants that are being investigated.

The person had requested all records from Jan. 1 through June 3 of 2019, and was given 19 files from the Justice Department, with 18 of those partially redacted. The department said it was authorized to withhold the redacted information by several subsections of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. 

In June, a complaint was triggered to the information and privacy commissioner's office, which is an independent office of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.

The information and privacy commissioner's office asked the Justice Department for the unredacted documents so it could determine whether the redactions were valid.

The department refused, forcing the office to launch a lengthy formal investigation.

Had the department cooperated and allowed for an informal investigation, the matter could have been settled in 60 days or less, rather than up to six months.

"One of the first challenges our office had with this case was that the department refused to provide us with the information we needed in the early stages of our work," said the privacy commissioner, Diane McLeod-McKay, in a news release.

"I had no choice but to conduct a full investigation in order to view the information redacted from the relevant records by the department."

Records still not released

The investigation found the department withheld too much information on the grounds that releasing it would have interfered with law enforcement or threatened the safety or lives of law enforcement officers, according to the adjudicator assigned to the case by the IPC.

Those grounds were not found to be valid. On Dec. 3 the privacy commissioner's office recommended that the department release all of the information to the complainant, except for the personal information of third parties. 

While the Department of Justice partially accepted the recommendation, it refused to provide access to some information in a few of the records.

That included information about a specific recording device that is identified in one record, cellphone numbers of SCAN investigators identified in two records, and parts of two records because they include information about an ongoing SCAN investigation.

"Here again, the [department] has provided no evidence to support their assertion that release of the SCAN investigators' names and cell phone numbers, which I assume are cellphones issued by the Department, if disclosed to the complainant, will endanger their lives or their safety," the investigation report notes. 

With files from Jackie Hong

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