Guide to FOIP-Chapter 4

Office of the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner. Guide to FOIP, Chapter 4, Exemptions from the Right of Access. Updated 8 April 2024. 3 (2) Every Act and regulation is to be construed as being remedial and it to be given the fair, large and liberal interpretation that best ensures the attainment of its objects.3 The Supreme Court of Canada has stated various approaches to the interpretation of statutes. In his dissenting judgement in Singleton v. Canada (2001), Justice LeBel discussed and summarized three approaches utilized in recent cases. They are the words-in-total-context approach, the teleological (or purposive) approach and the plain meaning approach. He rationalized the three approaches in this way: If the “plain meaning” approach is to make any sense at all, it surely cannot mean that we are always to ignore context when interpreting statutory language. Rather, it must be understood to say that although context is always important, sweeping considerations of general statutory purpose cannot outweigh the specific statutory language chosen by Parliament. It is an acknowledgement that Parliament’s purpose can be complex. Rather than finding a single purpose for the Act as a whole and using it to interpret the clear language of specific provisions, we should use such broad purposes only as a context to help elucidate the meaning of specific statutory language. Understood in this way, it is not inconsistent with the basic thrust of the words-in-total-context approach.4 The Supreme Court of Canada accepted the “words-in-total-context” approach to statutory interpretation when considering a denial of access to information in Merck Frosst Canada Inc. v. Canada (Minister of National Health), (2000): The test for the application of the exemption in paragraph 20(1)(c) is that of a “reasonable expectation of probable harm”. In Canada Packers Inc. v. Canada, [1989] F.C. 47, the Federal Court of Appeal interpreted this disposition as follows, at page 60: …The words-in-total-context approach to statutory interpretation which this court has followed in Lor-Wes Contracting Ltd. v. The Queen, [1986] 1 F.C. 346: (1985), 60 N.R. 321 and Cashin v. Canadian Broadcasting Corp., [1983] 3 F.C. 494 requires that we view the statutory language in these paragraphs in their total context, which must here mean particularly in the light of the purpose of the Act as set out in section 2. Subsection 2(1) provides a clear statement that the Act should be interpreted in the light of the principle that government information should be available to the public and that exceptions to the public’s right of access should be “limited and specific”.5 3 The Legislation Act, S.S. 2019, Chapter L-10.2 at subsection 2-10. 4 Singleton v. Canada, [2002] 2 SCR 1046, 2001 SCC 61 (CanLII) at [68]. Also see Northern Thunderbird Air Ltd. v. Royal Oak & Kemess Mines Inc., 2002 BCCA 58 (CanLII) at [19]. 5 Merck Frosst Canada (Minister of National Health), 2000 CanLII 16042 (FC) at [13].