Compliance Management, Government Regulations, Privacy

Canadian privacy challenge exposes double standard

Canadian lawyers may have opened a legal can of worms by requesting the public release of heavily censored photographs. Paul Champ and Amir Attaran requested the release of redacted photographs of Taliban insurgents by the Department of Defence. The Department's refusal could open the door for legal challenges over the treatment of foreign detainees, say legal experts.

The two Ottawa lawyers had requested the release of photographs of Taliban detainees to determine whether they had been beaten. When the Department of Defence refused, they resubmitted their request, asking for the photographs to be published with the faces of the detainees blacked out, and only their hairstyles shown. The Department maintained that it would spend any amount of money necessary to avoid the photographs being released, citing Canadian privacy law.

In the past, however, the Federal Court has claimed that another law – the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – did not apply to foreign detainees. Amnesty International and the BC Civil Liberties Association had taken the Department of Defence to court in 2007, asking for a judicial review of detainee transfers between the Canadian government and Afghan forces, after concerns that detainees were being tortured. Federal Court justice Anne McTavish ruled that the Charter did not apply to Afghan prisoners.

Attaran, who is associate professor for the Common Law Section at the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law, criticized the Canadian government for double standards. On the one hand, it denies detainees rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he pointed out, while on the other hand, it awarded them rights under the Privacy Act.

Suzanne Legault, the Federal Information Commissioner, had also called for the release of the documents, reports said.

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