Gun serial numbers are not personal information, judge tells RCMP

OTTAWA — The Federal Court is ordering the RCMP to release the serial numbers of hundreds of its handguns in response to a request under the national information law.

In a decision made public Wednesday, Justice Nicholas McHaffie rejected the police force’s argument the numbers amounted to personal information — akin to a social insurance number — that should be exempt from disclosure under the Access to Information Act.

In 2014, the RCMP received an access request for information related to a number of Sig Sauer P226 handguns.

In response, the Mounties released a 13-page chart that listed 468 P226 firearms along with details including the RCMP unit to which each gun had been issued.

The RCMP blacked out the serial numbers of the guns on the basis the numbers constituted information about identifiable individuals — data considered exempt from release.

The requester, whose identity is protected, advised the Mounties the serial number of his own firearm had been redacted from the response. The RCMP did subsequently release the serial number of this gun, but maintained that the other numbers could not be disclosed.

The requester complained to the federal information commissioner, an ombudsman for users of the information law.

During the commissioner’s investigation of the complaint, the RCMP pointed out that 85 per cent of the 468 serial numbers in the chart were linked to an individual in the Canadian Firearms Information System, with data including their name, date of birth and address.

The information commissioner sided with the requester and recommended release of the serial numbers, but the RCMP refused to budge, prompting the commissioner to take the matter to Federal Court.

During the court proceedings, the Mounties cited three other federal databases containing personal information to which the serial numbers could be linked. The RCMP also contended the numbers could be matched up with personal information held by private businesses, such as gun manufacturers or shooting clubs.

In his ruling, McHaffie said there was no serious possibility that release of the serial numbers to the requester would allow people associated with the relevant guns to be identified.

“To use the serial numbers to identify an individual would require either access to restricted government databases that already contain personal information, or a successful effort to trick either the government or the manufacturer into releasing personal information,” he wrote.

“The evidence does not establish a serious possibility of either occurring.”

McHaffie concluded the serial numbers were not personal information under the law. However, he noted the RCMP, believing otherwise, could have invoked a section of the access law permitting disclosure of the numbers in the public interest.

The judge found “no indication that the RCMP gave substantive consideration” to such a disclosure.

Exercise of the discretion demands a transparent and intelligible explanation of why the public interest in release does or does not clearly outweigh the relevant invasion of privacy. “The RCMP did not meet that standard.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2019.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

‘Leprechaun Joe’ to rappel down Stantec building in Red Deer for third year

Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Rope for Hope event is July 18

Lethbridge College evacuated as result of threat

Police are investigating a report of a threat at Lethbridge College. The… Continue reading

RCMP looking for wanted man believed to be in central Alberta

Wetaskiwin RCMP are looking for a man facing murder charges, and they… Continue reading

Red Deer mayor’s recognition awards accepting nominations

Candidates can be nominated in five categories before March 9

Country music fans enjoy free concert at Red Deer mall, ahead of ACMA awards

Fans like to get up close and personal and that’s exactly what… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Feb. 1 A Jump Rope Competition will be held at the Abbey… Continue reading

David Marsden: Let’s see success at Westerner Park

It’s encouraging that Westerner Park has admitted it needs the support of… Continue reading

Shopify plans to hire 1,000 workers, open Vancouver office by end of year

OTTAWA — Shopify Inc. is bulking up its presence and workforce on… Continue reading

Majority of Canadian boards had no female members in 2016 and 2017: StatCan

About 60 per cent of Canadian boards were composed entirely of men… Continue reading

Canadian companies feel impact of coronavirus as it strikes across sectors

MONTREAL — Canadian companies are starting to feel the pinch of the… Continue reading

New pressure on Prince Andrew to help Epstein investigation

LONDON — The pressure on Britain’s disgraced Prince Andrew increased Tuesday after… Continue reading

Lacombe to spend $15,000 over five years on stocking Len Thompson Pond

Popularity of facility means further stocking necessary

City council in Prince Albert, Sask., votes to give plastic bags the boot

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — A city in northern Saskatchewan is believed to… Continue reading

Most Read