For immediate release from The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
August 21, 2012
OTTAWA – “We’ve heard it from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario to the bench of the Supreme Court of Canada: access to information facilitates democracy,” explains Faye Sonier, Legal Counsel with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC). “To block access to information is to purposefully obstruct Canadians from being able to fully participate in the democratic process; and permits politicians to carry on, without accountability to voters.”
As explained in the EFC’s new report, Black Holes: Canada’s Missing Abortion Data, on January 1, 2012 significant amendments to Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) came into effect. One of the amendments prevents individuals from successfully making access to information requests for records relating to the provision of abortion services.
“As there appears to have been no debate of this amendment in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, the motives of the Government of Ontario are unclear. In response to recent questioning by the media, government spokespersons stated the amendment was necessary because abortion-related information is ‘highly sensitive’,” explains EFC Vice-President and General Legal Counsel, Don Hutchinson. “What does ‘highly sensitive’ mean and what are its limits? Does the Government of Ontario think some topics are too difficult for the electorate to consider? Is knowing the number of abortions performed in the province more intrusive than knowing the number of mastectomies or prostate removals? Do they really think, as was suggested, the release of general statistical data might lead to someone getting hurt?”
“This change is contrary to the spirit of Freedom of Information legislation, the purpose of which is, in part, to ensure the right to access to information and that any exemptions to that right are ‘limited and specific’,” continues Hutchinson. “It is also inconsistent with numerous decisions issued by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario regarding the release of abortion data. Privacy Commissioner decisions reveal that there are several exemptions within the Act that could be used to deny access to information requests should the release of data ‘reasonably be expected to’ endanger the safety or life of persons or put the security of relevant facilities at risk.”
“The cases from the Privacy Commissioner demonstrate a clear principle: data pertaining to specific individuals or facilities is not likely to be released to the public but generalized data should be,” continues Sonier. “In the words of Senior Adjudicator David Goodis, ‘to deny access to generalized, non-identifying statistics regarding an important public policy issue such as the provision of abortion services would have the effect of hindering citizens’ ability to participate meaningfully in the democratic process and undermine the government’s accountability to the public.’”
“Yes, in the past, extremists purporting to be part of the pro-choice or the pro-life camps have committed crimes in tragically misguided efforts to advance their cause,” states Hutchinson. “However, as this EFC report demonstrates, abortion-related violence was exceedingly rare in Canada, even when abortion data was released to the public and media. The actions of a few criminals should not be used as a justification for a blanket ban on statistical data.”
“This amendment to the legislation was unnecessary and it restricts the ability of law-abiding Canadian voters to access information about publicly funded services,” concludes Sonier. “And unfortunately, Black Holes identifies a disturbing nation-wide trend on this issue that goes beyond the actions of Ontario’s government.”
For more information on this amendment, similar legislation in British Columbia and the nation-wide trend in regard to the reporting of data on Canadian abortion procedures, download a copy of our report, Black Holes: Canada’s Missing Abortion Data - A Brief Examination of Canada’s Abortion Data Collection Policies and an Analysis of Ontario’s New Legislation.