The Workers' Compensation Board appealed two decisions which held that a worker appealing to a board of review and from there to the commissioners was entitled to an opportunity to peruse copies of the material in his file. Napoli had injured his back while removing two dead horses from a railroad track near the Town of Smithers. At the time he was employed by the Canadian National Railway. A claim was then filed with the Board. It accepted his allegation that the injury was incurred during the course of his employment. A wage loss pension was initially awarded, then an application was made for compensation based upon a permanent partial disability. Dissatisfied with the findings of the Board, Napoli launched an appeal to a board of review. Counsel for Napoli requested he be given access to the medical file of his client which was then in the possession of the board of review. Believing itself obliged by law to keep the file secret from the petitioner, the board of review refused to show it to him or his counsel. The hearing continued. On September 5, 1978, it sent to Napoli a copy of its reasons dismissing his appeal. Throughout the decision, there are references to material contained in the file supporting the Board's conclusion that the appeal should be dismissed and upholding the findings of the disability awards officer. On September 18, 1978, Napoli applied to the chairman of the board of review for leave to appeal to the commissioners of the Board. By letter of June 26, 1979, the registrar to the board, wrote counsel for Napoli enclosing a "summary of the information contained in the claims file" which he said "related to the issues presented in your appeal submission to the Commissioners". Counsel responded with a request for more specific information. The facts of the Bourdin case were essentially the same except that he had not even been supplied with a summary of his file's contents. The trial judge agreed that natural justice mandated that the parties have access to the files, which the Board appealed.
- What right does an individual have with regard to access to information held by an administrative agency?
Chief Justice Nemetz, writing for the court, agreed substantially with the trial judge; the rules of natural justice applied to proceedings before the board of review and before the commissioners. The rules of natural justice clearly included a duty of disclosure. Summaries of the files were not adequate compliance with this duty because they afforded no opportunity to challenge the statements and opinions contained therein. A "high standard of justice" was required because of the large impact these decisions had on the future lives of the injured workers. The argument that the reports to the Board by experts would not be frank if they were to be disclosed was rejected. This reasoning did not conform to the tenets of natural justice and ignored the contrary view (the "sunlight principle") that the reports would be prepared with greater care and diligence because of potential disclosure.
- Whether disclosure is warranted at all depends on:
- if credibility is at issue; and
- if the potential consequences are serious.
- The extent of disclosure depends on:
- what is necessary to answer the case against the party; and
- policy rationales.