Coun. Christopher Trevelyan says White Rock moving toward charging for FOI requests does not support the ‘democratic process’. (File photo)

Coun. Christopher Trevelyan says White Rock moving toward charging for FOI requests does not support the ‘democratic process’. (File photo)

Freedom of information to come at a price in White Rock

City moving toward a new bylaw to charge $10 for each FOI request

Freedom of Information may not be free much longer in The City of White Rock – following steps toward a new bylaw that would impose a $10 fee for processing each request.

The White Rock Freedom of Information Bylaw 2023, No. 2457 passed first, second and third reading by council at Monday’s (March 13) regular council, with only final adoption to be scheduled.

But council was not unanimous on the issue, with Coun. Christopher Trevelyan voting against the measure on a matter of principle.

“I, philosophically, believe that people in this community have to have free access to information about what happens in their city,” he said.

He also noted that the city has a budgeted staff position for which work processing FOI requests is covered by salary.

READ ALSO: White Rock FOI requests posted to city’s website

The new legislation would replace the existing city FOI bylaw, reflecting changes to the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) which now allows municipalities to charge an application fee for all FOI requests.

The proposed White Rock fee is the maximum a municipality can charge under the changes to FIPPA, and covers costs for locating and retrieving a record, preparing it for disclosure, shipping and handling and providing a copy.

A written report from corporate administration director Tracey Arthur noted that “many requests received require significant staff resources to seek out the requested records and then respond to them.”

“…it may encourage FOI applicants to be clearer with their requests and in some cases for the FOI process to not be considered casually,” she added.

READ ALSO: White Rock FOI questions remain – after two years

Arthur pointed out that one applicant made 19 of the city’s 53 access requests in 2021 and two applicants made eight of the city’s 27 access requests for 2022.

“This equates to a significant amount of staff resources dedicated to the interests of one to two persons,” she said.

But Trevelyan took the position is that, even with potential abuses, the information should be provided free of charge.

“The city belongs to the people who live here,” he said.

“And that comes with people who abuse it, occasionally, with a lot of FOIs, to people who never use it, and everything in-between – and that’s just part of the democratic process.”

“Unfortunately, some people take advantage of (free information), but I don’t think we should throw out the barrel because of a few people like that. I do think that information needs to be public, because it is their city.”

Mayor Megan Knight took a different stance, however.

“I think (the fee) is quite reasonable, and a lot of people are abusing it, and, yes, there are the people that maybe $10 would be too much for them, but for what I see that’s going on in our office, I will fully support this.”

Coun. Elaine Cheung said she had called around different municipalities that are charging a fee for FOI requests, such as Port Moody.

“People are working their jobs, and they are doing something additional to it, and there should be a fee for it,” she said.

“Their time is valuable.”

But Trevelyan disputed that FOI requests represent – or should represent – additional work for White Rock staff.

“We do have someone on staff, or we are supposed to have a position on staff, that’s part of their job description,” he said.

“I’d completely be in agreement if we were lumping those FOIs on desks of other staff members. But there is a position whose job is to do that, period.

“The amount of financial recovery, it’s more to just discourage access to the city, it doesn’t do anything in terms of filling that position’s costs.”

“I don’t think it’s discouraging,” Knight countered.

“It’s what the provincial government says that we can charge. So $10 is more than reasonable. Because if I put someone in that position, they’ll probably have a law degree, or something to that extent. So $10 for three hours – I don’t think you can beat it.”

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