Neither Mayor Wayne Baldwin (at left) or long-time city critic Dennis Lypka (right) say they are surprised at White Rock’s unusual status in the OIPC’s list of top ten public bodies with the most complaints and request for review files – although they differ on the reasons. File photos

White Rock’s top-10 status for FOI issues ‘no surprise’ to either side

OIPC annual report flags city for number of complaints, requests for review

White Rock has been listed among the top 10 public bodies in B.C. – and one of only two cities, behind Vancouver – with the most Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) complaints and requests for review.

The reference was included in the annual report posted last year by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC).

Both White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin and longtime council critic Dennis Lypka say they’re not surprised at the city’s ranking, given the number of FOI requests the city receives – although both have different interpretations of what’s driving the statistic.

“I’m not surprised at all – it’s been an issue for us, as we’ve stated in the past,” Baldwin told Peace Arch News Thursday, adding that he believes many current FOI requests are politically-motivated “fishing expeditions.”

“It doesn’t surprise me – I expect it will have gone up like a rocket for 2017-18,” Lypka said, noting that he feels it a matter of civic responsibility to keep the city accountable on its actions and decisions, and to complain when responses to FOI requests are slow or incomplete.

In May 2016, city staff had been tasked with tabulating FOI requests received, and the following November – prior to the OIPC report last August – reported that the increasing number pushed the city to a create a temporary full-time staff position that summer.

At that time, Baldwin noted 90 out of 135 requests are from the same requesters – and that “four people are costing us $80,000 a year.”

Council critics have charged that the city has necessitated FOI requests – and requests for review – because of a lack information being made public.

According to the OIPC report – covering the period from April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017 – 21 complaints and 10 requests for review were received regarding the City of White Rock, which ranked eighth on the list of public bodies with whom people have had FIPPA issues.

White Rock’s ranking is just after UBC, which had 11 complaints and 23 requests, and on a par with number nine, the Vancouver Police Department (which had 11 complaints and 20 requests).

The City of Vancouver ranked at number four with 24 complaints and 13 requests, behind the top three – B.C.’s finance ministry, ICBC, and the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

The report includes the caveat that “the number of requests for reviews and complaints against a public body does not necessarily indicate non-compliance, but may be reflective of its business model or quantity of personal information involved in its activities.”

And OIPC spokesperson Erin Beattie told PAN it is difficult to draw any conclusions about White Rock appearing on the list, as the statistical section of the report only offers quantitative information.

“We don’t go into detail about individual complaints or requests,” she noted.

Asked whether it was unusual for a city to appear in the top 10, Beattie suggested reviewing past annual reports. A search of reports for the past 10 years indicates White Rock is the only small city to be named as one of the top 10 public bodies on the number of complaints and requests for review.

Vancouver and Victoria were the only other cities named. While the OPIC’s way of reporting statistics has changed over that time, Vancouver – noted in the report as a city that had flaws in its freedom of information process and which has been implementing OIPC recommendations for improvement – has appeared on similar OIPC lists for most of those years over the last decade; Victoria made the top ten list in 2012-2013.

Baldwin, however, said White Rock’s inclusion is to be expected.

“There are a few people who work persistently to create FOI requests and the numbers pile up,” Baldwin said.

Asked if he felt the majority of requests had become – to use OIPC terminology for dismissing complaints – “frivolous and vexatious,” Baldwin said “it all depends on your point of view.”

“From the city’s point of view, they don’t seem to be contributing to the public good in any sense,” he added. “They seem to be requests for strange pieces of information that wouldn’t be what you’d normally expect to see at all.

“They’re on fishing expeditions. I suppose if you ask enough questions you might find something that’s an anomaly. From their point of view, this is their life’s work, this is what they do.”

In recent years, citizen FOI requests have led to release of information on severance or retirement pay packages for former city employees (including former city manager Peggy Clark), the shortage of water at Peace Arch Hospital as result of the Five Corners fire, and White Rock’s decision to purchase its water utility from Epcor (the OIPC order to release the information to resident Ross Buchanan was resisted by representatives of both White Rock and Metro Vancouver).

Lypka, a Surrey resident who said he remains a committed watchdog in the city where lived for 14 years, said he keeps track of FOI requests being made to the city regularly by around a dozen individuals – himself included – but was unaware that White Rock had received such a ranking.

He added that he knows the OIPC is currently continuing to receive complaints about White Rock’s handling of FOI requests, including some of his own, and is in the process of investigating several of them.

Lypka characterized the city’s attitude to FOI requests as “looking at FIPPA for ways to avoid disclosing information, rather than looking at the act to see how to make more information available,” and questioned the city’s 2016 hiring of lawyer Ken Overton as its FOI clerk.

“It seems to me highly unlikely that the city hired a lawyer…to ensure that the public received full access to all the public body records it is entitled to under FIPPA,” Lypka said

He added he believes that staff workload would be reduced if FOI requests were answered by FIPPA-mandated deadlines (“it would avoid double-handling of files”), and if the information subsequently released was published by the city.

“That’s something some more enlightened communities are doing…it saves people from duplicating FOI requests.”

But Lypka said he believes the biggest problem is that the city has developed a culture of secrecy that runs counter to FIPPA’s goal of promoting transparency.

“It all relates to an approach that includes eliminating question period at council meetings, never having any town hall meetings, no questions and answers at open houses – it shows a conscious opinion to keep the public as uninformed as possible.

“They (the city) will say that it’s the ‘frequent flyers’, it’s the same group of people (boosting the statistics),” Lypka said.

“But just because other people don’t choose to exercise their rights, doesn’t mean they aren’t going to benefit from the information released, or that those rights don’t exist.”

 

A page from the annual report posted last year by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Just Posted

Province’s $6.5M will help women escape violence, Public Safety Minister announces in Surrey

Mike Farnworth made the funding announcement in Newton Friday morning

Stage 1 watering restrictions to kick in two weeks early

As of May 1, Metro Vancouver residents can only water lawns two days a week instead of three

Surrey Knights hockey team owners seek $250,000 for alleged discrimination

Claims have not been proven before BC Human Rights Tribunal

POLL: What’s your favourite Vaisakhi treat, Surrey?

Food plays huge part in Newton’s massive annual celebration

South Surrey relay runners compete for good cause at Great Peninsula Race

Third annual event held Thursday afternoon at South Surrey Athletic Park

VAISAKHI: A Surrey piper’s musical harmony

Music director for Crossroads United Church in North Delta plays flute for Indian Standard Time

Unions set for national strike against CP Rail

Locomotive engineers, conductors and signals specialists seeking new collective agreements.

B.C. woman known to hitchhike around province missing

Aislynn Hanson, 18, last seen April 13; known to travel throughout B.C. by hitchhiking

B.C. court relies on Facebook to track down missing defendant

A court in Princeton, B.C. relied on Facebook to track down a B.C. missing his court date

Cops corral pig on the loose

Police “put the grab” on pig before it can cross the highway on Vancouver Island

Accused in B.C. school stabbing found unfit to stand trial

Decision will put hold on upcoming trial for Gabriel Klein

Producer, DJ Avicii found dead at 28

Swedish-born artist Tim Bergling, was found in Muscat, Oman

Updated: Cars lined up around the block as gas hits 109.9 in B.C. city

The gas wars continue in Vernon, B.C. with prices as low as $109.9 in North Okanagan

Trudeau ends 3-country tour with global reputation, alliances intact

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finds footing on the world stage after China and India controversies

Most Read