Update: see previous post – October 3, 2011 Peel Police Missing Sniper Rifles, Pepper Spray, Batons
York Region can be very open and cooperative with all kinds of information, when it has been named (by Statistics Canada – Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics) the “safest community” in Canada, when compared with all other communities with populations of a million or more residents. York Regional Police aren’t as open and cooperative with information which is less celebratory in nature.
York Regional Police are hiding behind freedom of information policies developed by their own employees. It is surprising, given that larger police forces provided information sought, without the “privacy” excuses.
York Regional Police refuse to release the occurrence reports on lost or stolen weapons, claiming the details on how the equipment went missing are officers’ private personal information.
The reports would likely show who lost the weapons, as well as where and how they went missing. But that’s considered private information and can’t be released without the permission of each officer who has missing equipment, said the force’s freedom of information analyst.
“If they’re losing something, that’s their personal information,” said Janet Ryland. “They might not have lost it in the line of duty, I don’t know, I haven’t gone through every single report. I’m just saying that’s their personal information.”
The Star requested the reports through access to information legislation as part of an ongoing investigation into lost or stolen weapons from police forces across the Greater Toronto Area.
Even with the officers’ names removed, York Regional Police say the information in the reports is private.
“The circumstances regarding how they were lost is still (an officer’s) personal information,” Ryland said.
It’s a hardline stance on what is considered public information, especially when compared to neighbouring Peel Regional Police.
Earlier this month, the Star revealed Peel officers have lost a small arsenal of weapons in recent years.
Nearly 75 per cent of the weapons lost or stolen — a list that includes two sniper rifles, pepper spray canisters, loaded ammunition magazines and dozens of police batons — are still missing.
The Star analyzed 45 police occurrence reports on missing police equipment from 2005 to 2010. Peel released the reports four months after the Star requested the information, waiving fees because of the delay.
The force later released more reports, removing officers’ names but leaving the details on how the weapons went missing.
“There was no personal aspect in what we provided,” said Tonia Pryce of Peel’s information and privacy unit. “There is really no personal information.”
The reports revealed officers losing their weapons in a variety of public places, from a Tim Hortons shop to a parking lot.
In one case, a Peel constable’s gun belt — along with the pepper spray, baton and two 11-round magazines it carried — disappeared after he left it in a Brampton police station before leaving for a week off work.
While an officer’s name may be considered private information, there is no reason the details of how or where the weapon went missing should be withheld from the public, said Michel Drapeau, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who specializes in access to information and privacy.
“It’s not personal information. It’s not police information that merits protection. It may be a cause of embarrassment for the police force but the courts have said over and over again, embarrassment isn’t a reason for exemption under the law,” he said.
The Star can appeal York Regional Police’s decision to the Information and Privacy Commissioner, an independent provincial body that reviews government institutions’ decisions on releasing government-held records.
Access to information legislation requires a government institution to disclose as much as possible without sharing exempted information — in this case, personal information — said Alexandra Mayeski, a lawyer with Heenan Blaikie.
“The purpose of the (legislation) is to promote transparency and accountability — things that are in the public interest,” she said.
“Where there are privacy interests, they should be protected. If an institution claims that there is a presumed invasion of someone’s privacy, they must also consider whether disclosure is desirable for the purpose of subjecting the institution’s activities to public scrutiny.”
For $225, York Regional Police will release a breakdown of the number and types of weapons lost or stolen from the force since July 2005, Ryland said.
Over the past six months, the Star has made similar requests through access to information legislation to the Toronto Police Service, Ontario Provincial Police and Durham Regional Police Service.
Toronto police gave a fee estimate of more than $1,600 just for a breakdown of police equipment that has gone missing since 2003. The other forces have yet to give a cost estimate.