It came as a surprise to many on Council in February when the 2021 budget was presented and the 2020 revenue for “Freedom of Information” fees was revealed. The Town had estimated it would take in $50 in these fee revenues for 2020… but they actually took in $3,989. That’s almost an 8,000% (yes, eight-thousand percent) increase compared to estimated revenue.
Today, Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, Patricia Kosseim, provided her first annual report to the Provincial Legislature. The Commissioner focused on three notable themes in her report, that privacy rights are not absolute, the need for transparency about COVID-19 information and a reminder to public institutions that obligations and rights to information are never suspended, even in times of emergency.
On her last point the Commissioner stated in a press release:
“A third common theme of last year has been to remind public institutions that access to information rights and obligations are not suspended, even during times of emergency. In fact, access to information is more critical than ever, especially when peoples’ lives and livelihood are at stake. It is now — not years from now when history books will be published — that the public needs to understand the decisions and actions that are being taken on their behalf and hold institutions to account for them. Information breeds the level of trust needed for people to follow public health guidance. Conversely, secrecy spawns skepticism that only leads to cynicism and non-adherence.”
This is an important point locally as Town staffers were last year instructed to inform the public that timelines for these access to information (MFIPPA) requests were suspended due to a Provincial Order. Editor of NewsNow, Mike Williscraft, challenged this information after submitting a request for the third-party CAO investigation report and received a much different answer from the Province. Now it seems the Commissioner’s report validates the position given to Mr. Williscraft by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
The Commissioner’s annual report is both insightful and educational with some notable cases examined. If you are curious to read the whole report and see the 2020 statistics, you can find it at this link here. The IPC website also contains a great wealth of information on your rights to privacy and access to information; you can visit the site at https://www.ipc.on.ca/