FoI in Canada: Supreme Court to decide whether 1997 police report should be disclosed

In October, the Supreme Court of Canada will determine whether being able to obtain information through freedom of information laws is a right under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The story of the challenge stretches back 25 years. In 1991, two men were convicted of first-degree murder for the 1983 killing of Toronto mobster Domenic Racco, but Justice Stephen Glithero overturned the convictions on appeal in 1997.

In his decision, Glithero accused the Crown and police of serious misconduct. The OPP was called to investigate. They wrote a 318-page report but only released a two-sentence statement saying they found nothing.

The Criminal Lawyers Association (CLA) was asked by journalists to comment as an expert source. To ensure it was informed, the CLA filed an Ontario Freedom of Information and Privacy request to get the report.

When its request was denied, the CLA began a 10-year court battle to force the OPP to comply. The CLA was successful at the Ontario Court of Appeal last year, but the victory was short-lived.

The Ontario Ministry of Public Safety and Security was recently granted leave to take the case to the Supreme Court, where it will be heard this fall. If the CLA is successful in arguing that withholding information is an impingement on freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it could have wide-ranging implications for both Canada's provincial and federal freedom of information laws, says Frank Addario, president of the Criminal Lawyers Association.

"It's time for the courts to insist on a robust interpretation of freedom of information so that we get (what) Parliament and the legislatures envisioned when they passed these laws," he said.

Supreme Court holds key to unlock old report (London Free Press, 30 March 2008)