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Manitoba Ombudsman Tables 2002 Annual Report

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Apr 28, 2004

The Manitoba Ombudsman's Annual Report for 2002 under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and The Personal Health Information Act (PHIA) has been tabled by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.

The Ombudsman, Barry Tuckett, noted that there was a small decrease in the number of access and privacy cases opened in 2002, the first since the statutes came into force in 1997 and 1998 respectively. The 6.5% decrease to 243 cases contributed to an 11% increase in the number of files closed (218) over the previous year, but this progress did not constitute a major reduction of case backlogs inasmuch as there had been a 270% increase in complaints up to 2001 since 1997.

"Increased public awareness of questionable ethical behaviour in both the public and private sectors of Canada has generated a greater demand for openness, transparency and accountability," said the Ombudsman. "Access and privacy rights are part of this landscape, and society's trust and confidence in our institutions will in considerable measure reflect the government's real commitment to these values."

In general, the Ombudsman felt there was a genuine commitment to the principles of access and privacy legislation by many who play a role in the administration of FIPPA and PHIA. "Unfortunately, this is not always evident especially when the process is subject to delays, to questionable denials of access or to breaches of personal information privacy when due diligence has not been done."

There were no particularly significant changes in the types of cases handled under FIPPA and PHIA in 2002. Of the cases opened, 74% concerned access issues (down 1% from 2001), 14% privacy (down 1%), and the remainder were non-jurisdictional or involved the provision of information or other assistance relating to access and privacy matters. The proportion involving access to information issues under FIPPA declined to 69% from 73% of the total in 2001. Cases relating to privacy matters under this Act declined to 5% of the total from 8% in 2001, and 11% in 2000. Access cases under PHIA represented 9% of the total, up from 2% in 2001, but down from 10% in 2000.

The most notable change in the overall distribution of cases was the 15% decline from 40% in the previous year of those involving local public bodies. In 2000, local public bodies were involved in 21% of the cases. Cases concerning provincial departments and agencies rose by about 11%, following a 15% decline in 2001 from 2000 when 65% of the cases concerned these public bodies. Cases relating to health care facilities increased to 7% from 2% in 2001 representing a return to approximately the 2000 level of 6%. Cases involving health professionals stood at 2% of the total in 2002, continuing a decline from 7% in 2000 and 4% in 2001.

The Ombudsman made recommendations concerning three files under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and closed a case in 2002 that included recommendations made in 2001 under The Personal Health Information Act .

The Ombudsman noted that in 2002, work had nearly been completed on a privacy compliance tool designed to help entities under the legislation assess their level of compliance with information privacy requirements. The tool was the subject of a special report released in 2003. "Apart from making a fundamental due diligence process under the Acts more straightforward," he said, "it will assist public bodies and trustees to proactively minimize breaches of information privacy."

PHIA encompasses health professionals such as doctors, dentists, physiotherapists, and chiropractors; health care facilities such as hospitals, medical clinics, personal care homes, community health centres, and laboratories; health services agencies that provide health care under an agreement with a trustee; and public bodies as defined under FIPPA. Public bodies include provincial government departments, offices of the ministers of government, the Executive Council Office (Cabinet), and agencies including certain boards, commissions or other bodies; local government bodies such as the City of Winnipeg, municipalities, local government districts, planning districts and conservation districts; educational bodies such as school divisions, universities and colleges; and health care bodies such as hospitals and regional health authorities.

Created in 1970, the Office of the Manitoba Ombudsman exists to promote fairness, equity and administrative accountability through independent and impartial investigations and legislative compliance reviews.