Court of Appeal Decision of the Week

Release of Information by Municipal Councillors

R. v. Skakun, 2014 BCCA 223

Keywords: Access to information, privacy, municipal, councillor, release, conviction

Synopsis: Mr. Skakun, a municipal councillor, received a copy of a confidential workplace harassment report during a closed restricted city council meeting. He admitted he later delivered the report to the CBC. He was convicted by a Provincial Court judge for breaching s. 30.4 of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Section 30.4 provides: “An employee, officer or director of a public body or an employee or associate of a service provider who has access, whether authorized or unauthorized, to personal information in the custody or control of a public body, must not disclose that information except as authorized under this act.” The issue on appeal was whether a municipal councillor is an “officer” of a public body under s. 30.4. The C.A. dismissed the appeal, agreeing with both the trial judge and summary conviction appeal judge that “officer” included elected

municipal councillors.

Importance: The decision highlights the dual purposes of freedom of information legislation: (i) access to records of public bodies to promote accountability; and (ii) protection of personal privacy by restricting the collection, use or disclosure of personal information by public bodies. The C.A. referred to the S.C.C.’s decision in Canada (Information Commissioner) v. Canada (Minister of National Defence), 2011 SCC 25:

“the Court observed that while an open and democratic society requires access to information in the hands of public bodies, it must also offer protection for some of that information ‘in order to prevent the impairment of those very principles and promote good governance’” (at para. 9).

This decision continues the trend of recognizing that privacy legislation is of a quasi-constitutional nature and ought to be interpreted in a manner that advances its broad underlying policy objectives.

Counsel for Appellant: Jon Duncan (Jon M. Duncan Law Corporation, Prince George, B.C.)

Counsel for Respondent: Lesley Ruzicka (Crown Counsel, Victoria, B.C.)

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Posted: Tuesday, July 08, 2014