City backsteps on request to limit FOI requests

The City of Victoria has withdrawn its Section 43 application against Focus magazine.

After realizing that both the public and the province were poised to smack it down with the vicious fury of divine retribution, the City of Victoria has withdrawn its Section 43 application against Focus magazine. Citing an unmanageable workload, the city sought to limit the number of Freedom of Information requests the magazine could make to one at a time.

After a scathing response from publisher David Broadland — in which he detailed the relative simplicity of the magazine’s requests compared to those made to other levels of government — along with universal condemnation from pundits, community groups and private citizens, this week council has taken a shot at redemption.

The city has yet to release the information that Broadland claims led to its attempt at censorship, despite additional requests from journalists, including myself. In the meantime, Mayor Dean Fortin and Coun. Marianne Alto have put forward a motion — tabled during last week’s council meeting — to bolster staff resources, which are currently “unable to adequately meet the demands for timely response to the volume of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.”

The motion recommends that the city immediately hire an additional staff member to handle FOI requests and that a review of the FOI process be commissioned with an eye toward reducing the burden on staff time.

Ross Crockford — one of the journalists mentioned in the city’s Section 43 application — says the motion won’t accurately address the problem. “The motion puts the cart before the horse,” says Crockford, “by proposing to hire an additional staff person immediately, and reviewing the city’s FOI practices later. The review should be conducted first.”

Crockford also argues that the inspiration for the motion — the unmanageable number of FOI requests — isn’t based in reality. In the rush to cover itself, Crockford says the city should pause to “identify the current staff resources for FOI, how they compare to past years, and whether the volume of FOI work has actually increased or not.”

The motion at hand is an act of panic from a city that has worked too long to attach its name to open government. Far from a reasoned response to an administrative need, this is a political response to a justifiably incensed public. M

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