The Information and Privacy Commission recently decided an appeal from a requestor who wanted the London District Catholic School Board to release the names of individuals who had made complaints about the requestor’s behaviour during a school event. Schools often become the centre of community disputes and the information received by school boards from the public in such circumstances is subject to the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The requestor sought copies of emails from individuals who had written to a school principal to complain about the requestor’s behaviour. The school board released the substance of the emails, but removed the names and other personal identifiers from the emails.

The requestor appealed the school board’s decision to the Information and Privacy Commission requesting that the names of the individuals, but not other personal information, be released. In his appeal, the requestor argued that the school board should use its discretion to release the names of the individuals because doing so would assist in a fair determination of rights affecting the requestor. The requestor argued that he wanted the names in order to defend his reputation and possibly institute legal action against the individuals who had forwarded the emails.

The IPC analyzed the issues and section 14(2) of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and found that, while disclosure of the personal information would be relevant to a fair determination of the requestor’s rights, the names of the individuals would not assist the requestor to make a decision about whether or not to bring an action against the individuals. The IPC reasoned that the requester had already been apprised of the allegations being made, because he had received the substance of the emails from the school board, and that the names of the individuals who had forwarded the emails to the school board would not assist in his determination of whether or not to bring legal action. The IPC agreed with the school board’s argument that the individuals forwarded their email concerns with an expectation that they would be treated in a confidential fashion by the school board.

The privacy rights of the individuals and the requestor’s right to disclosure were weighed by the IPC, which found in favour of the individuals’ privacy rights. Thus, the IPC upheld the school board’s decision to use its discretion to refuse the request.

In the present case, due to the nature of the communications, the IPC agreed with the school board that the emails were likely forwarded with the expectation that they would remain private; however, this might not always be the case. It would appear from this case that no inquiry was made by the school board with the individuals to seek their consent to release the information. Seeking consent for release is a step that might assist in providing evidence for an appeal that the individual does consider the communication private.