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Denial was the starting point for Correctional Service of Canada

Between September and December 2010, an inmate at a maximum-security penitentiary requested 18 video recordings of incidents in which he was involved, which he alleged showed Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) officers committing assaults, hate crimes, and sexual harassment.

CSC refused to make available the videos, claiming that the videos included third party personal information that could not reasonably be severed, and that disclosure of the information would be injurious to the security of a penal institution.

The complainant alleged that the information was being withheld by CSC “in a blatant attempt to conceal corruption, harassment, and criminal misconduct by many of its officers.”

Our investigation revealed that CSC had not even retrieved or reviewed the requested video recordings before responding to the complainant. Ten videos had already been destroyed under CSC’s standard retention rules when the inmate made his request, but CSC did not so inform him.

Six other videos still existed at the time of the complainant’s request, but CSC made no effort to retrieve them and they too were destroyed.

We found the complaints concerning these 16 video recordings to be well founded.

The remaining two videos involved use of force. Under CSC rules, such recordings must be retained for a minimum of 30 days, in contrast to the standard 4.5-day minimum retention period for any other recordings.

CSC cited the same two provisions of the Privacy Act for withholding these two recordings as for the other 16. However, the organisation did not actually review the two recordings before making the exemption claim.

Unlike with the other 16 recordings which had been destroyed, the investigator was able to review these two recordings. We found the videos did not show inmates other than the complainant, as CSC had stated in its refusal to release the recordings. Our Office however, determined that CSC had correctly applied the other grounds for refusal by demonstrating that disclosing the information could reasonably be expected to be injurious to the security of a penal institution.

We found that the complaints about these two video recordings were resolved.

CSC’s responses to all the cases are troubling in that they appear to indicate an approach where denial of access is the starting point for handling requests for personal information under the Act rather than the openness and accountability that the Act was intended to promote. In 16 cases, CSC applied exemptions to disclosing records that did not even exist when CSC responded. We recommended that CSC implement appropriate measures to ensure that Privacy Act requests for records reach the appropriate officials in time to stop the records being destroyed where there is a short retention period for records.

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