Saskatchewan

Sask. city police fine-tuning accountability process before FOI law change

The way that police collect, retain and release information is under review as municipal forces prepare for changes to Saskatchewan access and privacy laws early next year.

Municipal police services will soon be subject to FOI law

Regina Police Service communications manager Elizabeth Popowich says all 600 staff at the service have received training to prepare them for the change. (CBC Radio-Canada)

The way that police collect, retain and release information is under review as municipal police prepare for changes to Saskatchewan access and privacy laws early next year.

The updated legislation will make municipal police forces subject to FOI requests and new rules on protection of privacy. The law already covers the RCMP.

The change to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act brings Saskatchewan in line with many other provinces, whose municipal police already have to respond to information requests from the public. The legislation allows a $20 fee to be charged for a request.

Every member of the Saskatoon and Regina police staff has undergone training to prepare for the change, which was originally expected to happen before September.  

There's been lots of work done, it's been a good use of taxpayer money to try to make that transition smoothly.-Elizabeth Popowich, Regina Police Service spokesperson

Regina Police communications manager Elizabeth Popowich said the changes are about the protection of people's privacy as well as the release of information.  

"In order to be compliant with the law then we have to make sure that what we collect is necessary to what we do," she said.

"If it's not necessary to police work then we shouldn't have it and we shouldn't hold it, and people should be reassured that we won't."

Protecting privacy

Locking office doors, shutting down computers and making sure cellphones are secure are only some of the ways officers are being asked to ensure privacy and information security.

Popowich said the police service has also reviewed the length of time that police retain the information they gather, and how it is stored.

Officers in both Saskatoon and Regina are being educated about what the access to information process is and what is considered a breach of privacy.

The changes at the Regina Police Service are being implemented by an access and privacy team, including a new role created for a freedom of information officer.

Popowich said the changes will help build trust with the community.

Change is welcome: Popowich

"Our society is very interested in accountability of any authority and so I think that if it helps to provide people — not only access to information — if it helps to provide them with some reassurance that we are who we say we are, and we're going to do what we said we would do, then that's a good thing," she said.

The changes are being made in consultation with the RCMP and municipal police in other provinces.

Although the legislation will come into effect several months later than police had expected, Popowich said the dedicated FOI officer had used the time to better prepare.

"There's been lots of work done, it's been a good use of taxpayer money to try to make that transition smoothly," she said.

Requests to involve personal cases, deaths

Saskatoon Police Service access and privacy officer Kayla Oishi started in the new role in March.

Oishi previously worked for the Office of the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner, and before that she processed access requests from the Ministry of Justice.  

She expects most of the requests will relate to an individual's involvement with police, or the circumstances around the death of a loved one.

The legislation gives police 30 days to respond to a request, and they can extend that by 30 days.

No limits, but some exemptions

Oishi said there are no limits to what a person can request under the legislation, only limits to what can be withheld. The service can refuse to release information if an exemption is applied.

"Examples could include information relating to ongoing investigations, confidential informants, tactical information," said Oishi.

People in Saskatoon will be able to make a request in person or online.

She said the date change for the legislation has also helped the Saskatoon police service refine its processes before it receives its first request.

"If anything it just gave us more time to fill in any holes, tie up any loose ends," she said.

With files from CBC's Dan Zakreski and Radio-Canada's Andreanne Apablaza

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