Order of Note – MO-3803: Accessing photographs of deceased relative from police

Sep 23 2019

Topic: Access

The Toronto Police Service received a freedom of information request from a woman who wanted photographs of her deceased son. The police decided to grant partial access, making an exception to the personal privacy exemption on compassionate grounds but removing the image of another person in the photograph. The police said, however, that she would only be allowed to view the photographs in person at Toronto Police Headquarters and no hard copies would be provided to her. This decision was based on a section in the access to information law which the police claimed allowed them to dictate how access could be provided. Their argument for this method of disclosure was that the graphic nature of the photographs would only worsen the woman’s grief. Further, their offer to provide counseling to the woman after viewing the photos at their headquarters would not be possible if she viewed them on her own.

The requester appealed the police’s decision to our office, indicating that she lived far away and would not be able to travel to their headquarters in Toronto. While the requester did not object to the redaction of the second individual in the photographs, she still insisted on receiving hard copies of the photographs claiming that it would actually assist in her healing process. She stated that she was aware of their graphic nature but that she needed to see them on compassionate grounds.

The matter could not be resolved in mediation and was sent forward to adjudication. The IPC adjudicator found that the police did not have the right to make assumptions about how the requester would react and to assume the preferred method of disclosure for addressing that reaction. The law requires that the requester be given a copy of the record or part unless it would not be “reasonably practicable” to copy it by reason of its length of nature. The police were ordered to disclose the records and mail redacted copies to the requester.

Read the full order: MO-3803.