Saskatchewan’s privacy officer has allowed the government’s auto insurer to withhold portions of a claimant’s risk assessment, on the basis that revealing the information could conceivably lead to injury or harm to its employees.
However, the privacy commissioner required Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) to turn over portions of the documents in which his claim is discussed in general.
In Saskatchewan Government Insurance (Re), the claimant made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request in April 2020 for all documents related to SGI’s “threat assessment” of him, following an incident involving tense interactions between himself and SGI employees. SGI told the privacy commissioner the claimant made threatening remarks, which it reported to the RCMP.
SGI’s allegations of the claimant’s threats were contained in the public auto insurer’s submission to the privacy commissioner, in the context of an FOI ruling. The allegations have not been reviewed in court, and the privacy commissioner’s decision does not indicate any charges were laid, merely that SGI spoke to police about the matter.
As a result of the incident, SGI required all further communication to be conducted through a specific email address and the [claimant] was prohibited from attending any SGI location without prior approval.
“In its submission to my office,” Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner Ronald J. Kruzeniski wrote in a decision released Friday, “SGI asserted…the [claimant] had made very real and specific threats of harm to SGI physical locations and employees, which included ‘driving the car right through the front window of SGI and lighting it on fire,’ and ‘you [name of SGI employee] are next on the chopping block…it is a promise,’ as well as a vague threat to ‘do something I am going to regret.’”
The claimant made an FOI request for any records pertaining to SGI’s “threat assessment” of him. The search yielded 74 pages of emails, photographs, screenshots, letters, incident reports and other documents. Thirty-seven pages were released in full, 25 pages were severed in full, and 12 pages were severed in part. SGI said it held back some records, because they would have revealed the personal information of SGI employees who took part in the threat assessment.
“If [the claimant] were to have access to these records it could further agitate [the claimant] to act on a specific threat of violence towards [the SGI employee],” SGI argued in its submission to the privacy commissioner.
“[The claimant] could also direct violence towards [another SGI employee], as [they were] responsible for assessing his threats, reporting them to the RCMP, and imposing restrictions on access to SGI employees and facilities.
“Therefore, the risk of harm is identified, includes damage or detriment, and disclosure can be connected to the anticipated harm. It is reasonable to conclude that disclosure of these documents could result in harm and should be withheld pursuant to section 21.”
The privacy commissioner noted the threshold for “could” is somewhat lower than a reasonable expectation but well beyond or considerably above mere speculation.
“While not explicitly stated, SGI appears to be asserting that there are two types of information that is being withheld,” the privacy commissioner found. “The first is the information that would identify the employees. The second is information about the file and their decision-making processes related to the threats by the applicant against SGI.
“It is reasonable to believe that the release of the individuals’ names and email addresses could lead to threats against that individual, as there is an example of that happening that was presented to us. Similarly, the information regarding what actions SGI is planning on taking against the [claimant] could lead to retaliation against SGI even without identifying a specific individual.”
That said, the privacy commissioner found some of the documents severed for this reason contained more ‘innocuous’ information that dealt solely with the matter of the claimant’s SGI claim. The privacy commissioner ordered that these withheld portions of the file be turned over to the claimant.
File photo courtesy of iStock.com/gremlin