POLITICS
03/29/2012 12:27 EDT | Updated 05/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Law professor wins Afghan info fight as Supreme Court denies federal bid

OTTAWA - A University of Ottawa law professor has cleared another hurdle in his fight to see federal records about human rights in Afghanistan — a legal decision that could reap benefits for other users of the Access to Information Act.

The Supreme Court of Canada said Thursday it will not hear a government appeal of a lower court ruling on the matter.

It means the Foreign Affairs Department must take a fresh look at the records requested by Amir Attaran in 2007 and closely weigh any decision to withhold material.

And it will likely make it more difficult for federal agencies to deny the release of security-related information by applying a broad brush of confidentiality to documents.

In response to his Access to Information request, Attaran received censored versions of departmental human rights reports on Afghanistan for 2002 to 2006.

He complained to the federal information commissioner, an ombudsman for users of the access law, and later pursued the matter in Federal Court.

Attaran was eventually successful in the Federal Court of Appeal, which ruled that Foreign Affairs did not fully exercise its discretion under the access law to decide whether or not to release the disputed portions of the reports.

The government then asked for a hearing in the Supreme Court. In keeping with practice, the high court did not give a reason Thursday for refusing to hear the case.

Attaran said he was delighted with the outcome. It entrenches the court of appeal's view that it's up to government to justify refusal to release records on grounds of security or secrecy related to international affairs, he said.

"The burden's not on the information requester, the burden is now clearly on the government," he said. "And that's a big change."