Blogger Takes Ontario Government to Court over Suppression of Information
OTTAWA , July 18, 2013– “In January 2012, the Ontario Liberal government amended its freedom of information law to exempt any abortion-related data from Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. As a blogger and a member of the new media, I’m taking on the government and challenging them over this undemocratic move. Tax-payers should know how their tax dollars are being spent,” explains Patricia Maloney.
By means of Bill 122, the Broader Public Sector Accountability Act, the Ontario government amended the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) to restrict data relating to the “provision of abortion services” from the public. There is no recorded debate in Hansard of this amendment, and it did not come to the public’s attention until after the provision came into effect and Maloney exposed it.
Maloney, the author behind the blog Run with Life, discovered the amendment when the Ministry of Health responded to an FOI request she made in March 2012. After breaking the story on her blog, the amendment caught the attention of the national media. Among others, Margaret Somerville covered it for the Calgary Herald and Barbara Kay wrote about it in the National Post.
“I’m not interested in patient or physician names, or the identification of hospitals. I respect the dual purposes of freedom of information laws; to ensure government accountability by providing information to taxpayers while ensuring the privacy of Canadian citizens. But data relating to provincial trends and rates of a publicly funded medical procedure are fair game,” elaborates Maloney. “The government has not restricted this type of generalized data for any other medical procedure. This amendment is without precedent or justification.”
“And without this data, how will we know if safe-sex campaigns are effective? Or the sex-education program that Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised to introduce?” Maloney asks. “Or if there is a sudden spike in tween or teen abortions? This is an important healthcare issue. And now the public is running blind on a government expenditure previously identified as costing as much as 30 to 50 million dollars each year. ”
In March 2013, the Ministry of Health denied Maloney’s FOI request. Maloney retained constitutional lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos, and appealed the decision to the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC). The IPC upheld the Ministry’s decision stating that the new section to the FIPPA was clear in its exclusion of documents relating to the provision of abortion services. Maloney is now seeking a reconsideration of the IPC’s Order (by the IPC) and a Judicial Review of the Order (by the Ontario Divisional Court).
“As a blogger, Ms. Maloney benefits from the freedom of expression and freedom of the press guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” explains Polizogopoulos. “The Charter protects her right to comment on matters of public interest. The allocation of taxpayer funds for a medical procedure which remains the source of much controversy is certainly a matter of public interest and the suppression of that information cannot be justified in law.”