The Absurd Result Principle

It was a privilege to speak last week to all of the attendees of the Freedom of Information Police Network (FOIPN) Fall Conference at the Belleville Police Service Headquarters in Belleville, Ontario.

I was asked to deliver a presentation on the Absurd Result Principle, a legal principle with a long history in the Canadian and English legal systems. The principle has been especially relevant to Freedom of Information ever since the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPCO) employed it to nullify portions of Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and our Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA), under certain circumstances.

Under s.49 of FIPPA and s.38 of MFIPPA, institutions may use their discretion to decide not to disclose a requestor’s own personal information if the disclosure would also constitute “an unjustified invasion of another individual’s personal privacy”.

In the past, institutions have relied on these exemptions to refuse to disclose records even where such records were originally created or submitted to the institution by the requestor.

IPCO has taken the position that withholding records in this situation may lead to an “absurd result”, and therefore, despite the clear language of s.49 of FIPPA and s.38 of MFIPPA, institutions may not be permitted to rely on these exemptions in this situation.

Of course, the devil is in the details!

As part of my presentation to the FOIPN, I prepared a slide deck which provides an overview of the Absurd Result Principle, including its origins in the English courts, and then summarizes relevant IPCO decisions to help Ontario FOI professionals understand how the Absurd Result Principle is being applied today. This slide deck is intended to serve as useful reference material for any FOI professional hoping to learn more about the Absurd Result Principle, as well as those who are in the process of applying it to a specific request. It can be a great resource to keep handy for whenever the right type of request comes along — specifically, where a requestor is seeking records they themselves created or submitted to the institution, where such records contain someone else’s personal information. (Although, as you will see in the deck, this isn’t the only situation in which the Absurd Result Principle may apply.)

I hope you will find this slide deck useful and informative. If you have any questions about this deck, the Absurd Result Principle, or the FOI Assist software, or if you would like to book a videoconference demonstration of the FOI Assist software, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Now is a great time to request a demonstration of the FOI Assist software to get up and running before the new year! Demonstrations are generally conducted via videoconference and take approximately one hour. I would love the opportunity to show you how the software can help you and your institution and transform the way you process FOI requests.

Published by Justin Petrillo

I have created the FOI Assist™ software to help Ontario’s provincial and municipal government institutions of all sizes track and respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. For most of my career I have been a lawyer, advising clients on commercial, intellectual property and FOI/privacy issues. From 2013 to 2015, I managed the FOI program for the Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games Organizing Committee while serving as Legal Counsel to the Games. Prior to becoming a lawyer, I obtained a computer science degree and worked as a software developer at several well-known technology companies.

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