Mystery of How Newspaper Identified Boat Refugee

On October 17, 2009, a ship called the Ocean Lady arrived at Victoria, B.C. carrying 76 refugee passengers. Five days later, a news story in the National Post reported that one of the passengers was a 26-year-old fugitive sought by the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) on a terrorism offence.

On behalf of a non-profit organization, a complainant alleged that personal information about that refugee had been disclosed to a Post reporter. She named four federal institutions as potentially culpable - the Canada Border Services Agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Our investigation confirmed that the individual in question was a wanted fugitive on INTERPOL's website. The publicly available INTERPOL notice included the individual's full name, sex, date of birth, place of birth, nationality and language spoken, the colour of his eyes and hair, and his photo.

Because of journalistic confidentiality, our investigation was unable to confirm how the National Post reporter obtained the information for the article.

In the absence of this information, there was no factual evidence to support the allegation that any of the four institutions named in the complaint disclosed personal information about the passenger to the reporter.

Accordingly, we found the complaint was not well founded.

However, our Office took the opportunity to remind each department that the personal information of refugees and refugee claimants may have greater than usual sensitivity, considering the potential for harm to the safety and security of individuals seeking protection under Canada's refugee program.

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