It took six years and three court decisions. But earlier this year, Patrick Cain received information from the provincial government about where registered sex offenders live.

By Alex Abdelwahab, for the Ryerson Journalism Alumni Association

It took six years and three court decisions. But earlier this year, Patrick Cain received information from the provincial government about where registered sex offenders live.

Ryerson Journalism Alumni Association secretary Alex Abdelwahab asked Cain, who works at Global’s Investigative Data Desk, about the process. Here’s an edited and condensed version of their conversation:

Patrick Cain. Courtesy Patrick Cain/Global News
Q: You started this process six years ago when you were building a weekly map. Why sex offenders?

A: We were creating maps of whatever came to mind. We did a whole series, of dozens and dozens of maps in the end. Dog-ownership and crime rates and drunk drivers and really anything I could think of. So the sex offenders are part of that.

They (the freedom of information office of the corrections ministry) eventually turned me down. I went to the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC), who ruled in my favour. And I thought, ‘Well this is it, they’ll have to go to court if they want to go against the IPC ruling.’ I never thought they’d appeal to the Ontario Superior Court and by glory, they did.

Q: Can you break down your FOI process?

A: I asked for the first three characters of the postal codes of Ontario registered sex offenders. This is a template that can be used in all sorts of different contexts to unlock otherwise unreleasable data. If you can reduce the data so that no one’s identifiable any more, there are no privacy implications, then you can have the data. Partial postal codes in Canada are very useful identifiers. They’re kind of neighbourhood-size in urban areas, about 20,000, 30,000 people. So you look at the sex offender map. There are like three of them in an area with 23,000 people. Good luck finding anyone based on that alone.

Q: What happened in Superior Court?

A: Basically the structure of an appeal case, is you sit-down and say why are you appealing. Then they broke for two hours and there’s a bit of legal drama because they’re supposed to come back and the judges didn’t, and after a few minutes it became clear they weren’t just late, there was something going on. They turned up 20 minutes later and said essentially a judgement will be issued. So I thought they’ll never appeal that but oh yes they did. And i thought the Court of Appeal will never want to hear this thing, really, but oh yes the Court of Appeal did want to hear it. So there we were, in Osgoode Hall, a year and a half later with three different judges and the identical thing happened. The judges didn’t want to bother hearing from the other side.

I thought, there’s only the Supreme Court left over this, this is game over.

To continue reading this Q&A, please go the RJAA website where this was originally published