Canada’s Information Commissioner has filed a lawsuit in federal court to force the Department of National Defence (DND) to provide records on its COVID-19 policies as requested through an access to information request.
“The Minister’s ongoing violation of his legal duty to implement the Commissioner’s binding Order issued under the Act is contrary to the law,” says the notice of application filed on Dec. 18.
It adds that the lack of responsiveness is an “abuse of process” undermining the credibility of the access to information system.
Defence Minister Bill Blair is identified as the respondent in the lawsuit and the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) seeks a court order to compel DND to comply with the OIC’s order and respect the Access to Information Act.
The notice of application states that DND received a request for records on June 15, 2022, asking for “options analysis, assessments, and recommendations” pertaining to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) “COVID-19 vaccination mandate and public health measures (including, but not limited to, masking, quarantine, physical distancing, air quality assessments, infrastructure assessments).”
The access to information request sought related information produced by or submitted to five DND offices from January 2019 to June 2022.
COVID-19 restrictions in the CAF have been controversial, particularly the COVID-19 vaccination mandate imposed in October 2021 which led to the departure or expulsion of hundreds of soldiers. It remains in place to this day for operational roles.
The OIC explains that DND initially requested a 90-day extension to respond, citing a large number of records, but it didn’t meet its own deadline. The requester hence filed a complaint with the OIC.
The commissioner found the complaint was justified on June 12, 2023, and deemed DND had refused access to the records. An order was issued for DND to comply with the request by Nov. 30, 2023.
The legal filing says that DND told the OIC it would comply with the order but it still did not meet the November deadline.
The OIC did not respond to inquiries before publication time. A DND spokesperson declined to comment given the issue is headed to court.
DND and the CAF are facing other legal actions with regard to their management of COVID-19.
The list of alleged infractions includes “ignoring established law” on the right to privacy, informed consent, and the right to choose medical treatment.
In a statement of defence for one of the lawsuits, the Attorney General has called the legal action “scandalous, frivolous, and vexatious.”
The legal actions include a total of 458 individuals, one of which is the originator of the information request being litigated by the Information Commissioner.
Attorney Catherine Christensen, who represents the soldiers, says the OIC’s legal recourse against the defence minister is “long overdue but welcome.”
“DND/CAF has a long history of blocking the release of documents necessary for litigation, including on the two mass torts now before the Court. It has to be asked what they want to hide,” she told The Epoch Times in a statement.
Along with not releasing records requested under the Access to Information Act, the Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre has yet to address several grievances ruled on by the Military Grievances External Review Committee (MGERC) last year.