SUDBURY -- Ontario's privacy commission of has ruled Laurentian University must respond to freedom of information requests for salary and benefits details of the presidents of three federated universities.

While ruling Huntington, Thorneloe and the University of Sudbury are separate from Laurentian, under the Laurentian University Act, the privacy commission said LU has details of the three presidents' salaries because it administers the benefits plan for the federated universities.

Under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, information that LU has "care and control of" is subject to freedom of information requests, the commission said.

The original FOI request to Laurentian sought details of the employment contracts for all three presidents, including "salary, benefits, pension and a list of all other entitlements (for example a list of allowable expenses such as housing, terms of travel whether first class, business class, memberships in clubs and associations and other perquisites and benefits)."

LU denied all three requests on the grounds that since the federated universities are separate entities, they don't have custody or control of that information, and so the Act didn't apply.

Operate independently

In their submissions, the federated universities emphasized they operate independently of Laurentian, running their own programs and hiring staff at wages they determine.

"The affairs of the federated universities are managed by their own independent board of regents or board of governors, and their own presidents," said a transcript of the proceeding. "As an example, U Sudbury provided a copy of its own general bylaw."

Huntington University said that it hires and pays its faculties and staff, not Laurentian.

"Huntington’s president receives no remuneration from Laurentian. Laurentian has no right to enter on Huntington’s premises to seize the employment contracts and would not be able to comply with an order that it do so," the transcript said.

While agreeing the schools are separate entities, the commission ruled Laurentian must respond to requests for information that is under its "care and control." Because it administers benefits plans for all the schools, it has information about the salary and benefits for the presidents of the federated universities.

"I have considered the above factors and have also considered whether a finding of custody on Laurentian’s part is consistent with the act’s purpose of enabling citizens to scrutinize government activity so as to participate more fully in democracy," wrote senior adjudicator Gillian Shaw. "Moreover, the records reveal the salaries of senior officials at the federated universities – the presidents – who are paid, in part, from public funds."

Not automatic

The decision does not mean, however, the information will automatically be released.

As Shaw noted, none of the parties argued whether exemptions under the Act apply in this case that would allow the information to be kept private.

Instead, Laurentian was ordered to respond to Freedom of Information requests for salary and benefits of the three presidents.

Laurentian University welcomed the part of the ruling that said the federated universities are separate entities, and therefore LU did not have care and control of the employment contracts of the three presidents.

"Ultimately, this order stands for the authority that the federated universities are not a part of Laurentian for the purposes of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and has sector wide implications for those universities with federated models," the statement said.

As far as the order to issue a decision on the salary and benefits of the federated presidents, Laurentian said it can't comment yet.

"Laurentian is not in a position to comment on its decision of whether or not to provide the requester with salary and benefit information as that access decision has yet to be issued to the requester and Federated Universities."

Read the full decision here.