The Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Developments in privacy law and writings of a Canadian privacy lawyer, containing information related to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (aka PIPEDA) and other Canadian and international laws.

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The author of this blog, David T.S. Fraser, is a Canadian privacy lawyer who practices with the firm of McInnes Cooper. He is the author of the Physicians' Privacy Manual. He has a national and international practice advising corporations and individuals on matters related to Canadian privacy laws.

For full contact information and a brief bio, please see David's profile.

Please note that I am only able to provide legal advice to clients. I am not able to provide free legal advice. Any unsolicited information sent to David Fraser cannot be considered to be solicitor-client privileged.

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The views expressed herein are solely the author's and should not be attributed to his employer or clients. Any postings on legal issues are provided as a public service, and do not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained herein or linked to. Nothing herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.

This web site is presented for informational purposes only. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a solicitor-client relationship between you and David T.S. Fraser. If you are seeking specific advice related to Canadian privacy law or PIPEDA, contact the author, David T.S. Fraser.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

PM decides it is not in the "public interest" to name Canadian tsunami victims 

Further to my earlier posting "PIPEDA and Canadian Privacy Law: Editorial urges that naming Canadian tsunami victims is in the public interest", the Toronto Star is reporting that the Prime Minister made the call not to publicy name those Canadians affected by the Asian tsunami. The article also refers to the ability of government to release names "in the public interest": - PM made decision not to release information:

"Privacy Act allows for disclosure `in public interest' Martin's office cites `respect for families'


OTTAWA—After days of citing the Privacy Act as a barrier to disclosing names of the missing and dead Canadians in southern Asia, the federal government conceded yesterday it made a discretionary decision not to release the information.

Pressure grew yesterday on the government to release names, especially after the Toronto Star reported it had found several individuals previously presumed missing.

The federal Privacy Act in fact allows a minister to override the privacy law to reveal such information — and it frequently does — in cases that it deems "in the public interest."

There is no definition of what that is or is not.

Here's what section 8.2 (m) of the law actually says:

"Personal information under the control of a government institution may be disclosed ... for any purpose where, in the opinion of the head of the institution, the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs any invasion of privacy that could result from the disclosure."

In the end, it is now clear, the decision to keep the names secret was Prime Minister Paul Martin's, and not Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew's.

Martin's communications director, Scott Reid, said yesterday the Prime Minister's decision to withhold the names was "triggered by common sense and basic respect for the families involved."

"There is no compelling public interest that would result in the publication of the names of the 146 officially missing Canadians. Quite the contrary, the Prime Minister's strongly held view is that the public interest dictates that we should work closely with the families involved, offering support and assistance in any way possible while respecting their right to privacy."

"In truth, this was not a difficult decision. If families wish to speak publicly about their lost or missing loved ones, that is their decision. But the government will not presume or take that decision for them."


Renée Couturier, a spokesperson for federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart, says the federal government occasionally invokes the "public interest" exemption to privacy.


In fact last year, Ottawa invoked the "public interest" 67 times, according to Stoddart's annual report.

But this week, the prevailing view within the foreign affairs department was the information should not be released so as not to cause "further anguish and suffering" to the families, said spokesperson Reynald Doiron.

But Doiron indicated families were not asked if they would consent to a release of their relative's name.

Consultations were held with the Prime Minister's Office, the Privy Council Office, the federal privacy commissioner's office, and the justice department.

It was the Prime Minister who made the final call, said Reid.

In this case, one observer of privacy laws, John Lawford of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said yesterday the government should not be knocked for a decision made while the "chaos" of the disaster is still fresh.

He said it would be a greater concern if the government uses that as a long-term justification for withholding names...."

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