REALity Volume XXXVI Issue No. 9 September 2017
In 2012, the Ontario government secretly amended the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) to prohibit release of any information on abortion. There is no recorded debate on this amendment in Hansard, nor were there any committee hearings held on it. It was quietly slipped into the law with no explanation. In effect, the Ontario government, by this amendment, buried all of its abortion information, hiding it from the public. If the public does not have any knowledge of what is going on in regard to abortion, how can the issue be discussed? That apparently was the purpose of removing all abortion information from government reports.
Ottawa pro-life blogger, Patricia Maloney, accidentally stumbled over this hidden amendment when she applied under the Act for information on Ontario’s abortion statistics. She did not ask for personal information. All she asked for was information on how many abortions were being performed in Ontario, at what cost, at what stage of gestation, the age of the mother, and whether the abortion occurred in a hospital or clinic. She wanted this general information in order to engage in a public discussion on the issue. This was not too much to ask in a democracy.
When this information was refused, Ms. Maloney and the pro-life group, The Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA), launched a legal proceeding in Ontario against the government for its failure to release the pertinent statistics. The legal arguments were heard in February, 2015 before Mr. Justice Marc R. Labrosse of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. In its legal challenge, the applicants, Ms. Maloney and ARPA, argued that the Ontario government was violating S. 2 of the Charter of Rights, which recognizes the rights of freedom of thought, the press, and expression, and that these protected rights carry with them a right to information. The Ontario government countered these arguments by stating that the secret amendment, S. 65(5.7), of the Act was to address its concern that the disclosure of such records by hospitals could pose risks to the safety and security of patients, healthcare providers and staff. What patients? Nobody asked for the names or addresses of the patients? How then was public safety an issue?
On June 9, 2017, Mr. Justice Labrosse handed down his decision, concluding that the Ontario government was violating S. 2(b) of the Charter in refusing to disclose this information. He stated that abortions were publicly funded, and, therefore, were a matter of public interest. He also stated that the Ontario government had provided no evidence as to why disclosure of these statistics would pose risks to the safety and security of patients, hospitals and their staff, as claimed by the government.
Mr. Justice Labrosse concluded that the refusal to disclose the abortion statistics by the Ontario government, under the FIPPA, was invalid. He gave the government twelve months to amend the Act. Should the government fail to do so, then the controversial provision secretly placed in the Act becomes automatically null and void.