Former Whitehorse resident suing over alleged privacy breach urges city to adopt ATIPP

·4 min read
Whitehorse city hall. Jessica Ferro has launched an online petition demanding the city to adopt access-to-information and privacy legislation after, she alleges, her personal information was inappropriately shared with the subject of a complaint she filed with bylaw. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC - image credit)
Whitehorse city hall. Jessica Ferro has launched an online petition demanding the city to adopt access-to-information and privacy legislation after, she alleges, her personal information was inappropriately shared with the subject of a complaint she filed with bylaw. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC - image credit)

A former Whitehorse resident has launched an online petition urging the city to adopt access-to-information and privacy legislation after, she alleges, her personal information was inappropriately shared with the subject of a complaint she filed with bylaw.

That information, she claims, was then used to threaten and humiliate her.

In an interview, Jessica Ferro, who's also suing the city over the alleged privacy breach, said the experience was "shocking" and "humiliating."

"I was just completely caught off guard and it was an awful feeling," she said.

"And I felt violated. I felt — and still — feel unsafe."

Ferro filed a bylaw complaint with the city in 2020 over construction material that was blocking the entrance and exit to her office building's parking lot.

In a lawsuit filed to the Yukon Supreme Court last month, she alleges a bylaw officer shared an unnecessary amount of information, including her personal details, with the complaint's respondent.

The lawsuit claims the respondent then "targeted" Ferro and "verbally abused her through email, threatened her, slandered her, intimidated her, and his employee verbally assaulted her."

It also alleges he used the information to "undermine an RCMP investigation" into the alleged verbal assault, and that the bylaw officer disclosed "identifying and humiliating information" to the RCMP officer who responded to the incident as well.

In her statement of claim, Ferro, a psychologist who provided services to the RCMP, argues that besides a privacy breach, the sharing of information with the RCMP officer constituted slander because it painted her in a way that "suggested she would be less effective or ineffective" at her job.

The city, in a statement of defence, denies Ferro's allegations.

Nowhere to appeal

Ferro told the CBC she turned to legal action after learning the City of Whitehorse doesn't fall under the territorial Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPP), meaning she couldn't turn to authorities like the Yukon Information and Privacy Commissioner after unsuccessfully trying to resolve the situation directly with the city.

She also created an online petition last month — which had approximately 230 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon —  calling on the City of Whitehorse to formally adopt the ATIPP Act.

"I don't want anyone else to experience something like that, especially, you know, another woman," she said, adding that her experience contributed to her decision to leave the Yukon.

"I will do what I can to try and prevent this from happening to someone else."

'Not on our list of things to do at the moment'

In an interview, Whitehorse mayor Laura Cabott said that while she was aware of the lawsuit and petition, she couldn't comment on matters before the court and hadn't read the petition in full.

However, she said she believed the city was already "quite open and transparent" when it came to information-sharing and also has administrative directives in place when it comes to respecting privacy.

"We're always open to looking at ways to make information more readily available and accessible but also ensuring that we maintain people's confidential information … But actually moving towards ATIPP? It's not on our list of things to do at the moment," she said.

Besides not being an issue that has "risen to the top" for the current city council, Cabott said implementing ATIPP, should the city ever choose to, would come at a "significant cost to taxpayers."

"I think people do appreciate the ATIPP process that the Yukon government is subject to, and the federal government — it is very sophisticated, so that would be something quite, quite different for the city here to implement," she said, adding that she thought the city's current processes and policies work "quite well."

Whitehorse not an outlier

Municipalities in the Yukon are not required to adopt ATIPP and none have chosen to opt in to date. The Association of Yukon Communities, during previous legislation reviews, objected to the inclusion of its members under the act, citing the anticipated cost and workload it would place on small town, village and city offices.

Ferro, however, said she thought Whitehorse should follow the lead of larger cities like Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver that have ATIPP-style legislation in place. While she doesn't live in the Yukon anymore, she said she still believed it was something worth fighting for, reiterating that she didn't want anyone to go through the same thing she did.

"If I want to be able to sleep at night and live with myself and be proud of how I moved through this terrible experience, then this is something that I can do that will hopefully have some sort of positive or productive outcome," she said.

"And that's really what's driving me … I think, you know, with the adoption of ATIPP, it's much, much less likely that something like this could happen again."

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