Disclosing how many community mailboxes have been broken into in Abbotsford would lead to more crime, claims Canada Post.
In response to a wave of thefts from community mailboxes that hit Abbotsford last summer, The News requested a variety of data regarding the prevalence of mail crime in Abbotsford and Mission from the Crown corporation under the federal Access to Information Act.
The News requested records relating to the number of thefts from mailboxes in the two communities, the number of mailboxes replaced because of theft or vandalism, and information on those costs. Requests were also made for any records relating to arrests of mail thieves.
In response to the request for the number of thefts, Canada Post wrote that the records weren’t released because they contained information that “is used to protect the Canada Post network and our customers against criminal acts. This information, if released, could be used to compromise the security of the mail.”
The letter also says the information is “of significant commercial value to the corporation and could be harmful to its competitive position if released.” That is despite the fact that Canada Post has a government-mandated monopoly on the non-courier delivery of mail weighing less than 500 grams.
Canada Post has not always taken such a hard line.
In 2013, the corporation released 141 pages of documents in response to a request for copies of reported incidents in B.C. over a five-year period. The News submitted its request using nearly identical wording, but Canada Post withheld all records, citing the same security concerns.
A Canada Post Freedom of Information official said that while the wording was similar, the documents in question had changed between 2013 and 2016, prompting them to be withheld.
Sean Holman, a former reporter specializing in FOI requests who is now a professor at Mount Royal University, said the ability of Canada Post to withhold such records reflects problems in the country’s freedom of information laws.
“This is another example of how Canada’s freedom of information laws are actually censorship laws,” Holman said. “The exemptions and exceptions in them are used and abused to legally hide embarrassing information that the public should have a right to know about.
“It’s outrageous that Canada Post would deny the public this kind of information. Aggregate data on mail crime arrests would certainly help the public understand how successful law enforcement has been at keeping their correspondence safe. But it’s difficult to see how it would help criminals,” Holman said.