Municipal government institutions must produce any electronically stored information the public has a right to see, even if it requires using their technical expertise to develop new software, the Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled.
In a 3-0 decision yesterday, the court ordered the Toronto Police Services Board to respond “immediately” to requests from Toronto Star reporter Jim Rankin for information stored in two electronic databases, documenting contacts between citizens and police.
Yesterday’s decision marks the first time the court has ruled on the scope of the public’s and the media’s right to access electronic records held by municipal government institutions through freedom of information requests, said Tony Wong, a lawyer for the Star.
Rankin began seeking the information in 2003 to test a Toronto police claim that officers do not engage in racial profiling.
Police refused the request, saying it would be time-consuming and require the use of a special computer program to replace personal information, such as names, with numbers.
The decision quashes an earlier ruling from the Divisional Court, which, in effect, said the public can only access electronic government records if they can be produced using the kind of software the municipal institution normally relies on.