Vancouver’s Freedom of Information rated “C” (for extent) and “F” (for speed): Newspapers Canada audit of government FOI practices

In its 8th annual National Freedom of Information Audit, Newspapers Canada (a newspaper industry association) gives the City of Vancouver the mark of “C” for the extent ofVancouver City Hall from Cambie Street information it disclosed and an “F” for speed of responses.

From the press release:  “We found that governments may boast about being open with their data, but they don’t always live up to that talk,” says Newspapers Canada’s Senior Advisor, Policy and Public Affairs Jason Grier. “Open data doesn’t really mean much if it’s only carefully manicured data, with anything interesting or newsworthy stripped out before the public has access.”

Any government’s FOI performance is important not only for the media but for the general public and all of society. Candidates for the November 2014 civic elections should be grilled on how they would improve FOI practicies. Below are useful links and information. First, here is an excerpt of what the report says about Vancouver (page 38).

Nine requests were submitted to the City of Vancouver. They took an average of 53 days to be processed. Four were released in full as requested, three were denied in part and two had no response at the end of the audit.

Highlights of responses: Vancouver released a dataset of calls to its 311 centre, as requested, in an electronic form. It also released electronic lists of employees, transit user complaints (Translink) and travel expenses in full, as requested. The city was not always as open with other information.

Requests for police overtime and property standards orders had not been answered when the audit ended, four months or more after they were filed. The request for assessment information produced an awkward result. Vancouver officials denied the request for a list of residential properties assessed at more than $1 million, saying the information was publicly available from an Assessment B.C. website. While lists of top-valued properties could be accessed on the website, the information requested was there only in part as many properties were not listed. The request was, therefore, entered as denied in part. A subsequent review of Vancouver’s open data website, however, showed that the city actually provides a downloadable file of assessments for all properties. Why officials in the FOI office did not refer the requester to this site, rather than denying the request, is unclear. Had they done so, however, Vancouver’s grade would have remained the same.

Vancouver received a C for the extent of information it disclosed and an F for speed of responses.


About the FOI audit:

Reporters and editors with experience in FOI had long complained of governments restricting information despite legislative guarantees of access.

In order to assess the seriousness of the problem, the Canadian Newspaper Association initiated an annual FOI audit in 2005. The purpose of the national survey is to gather objective information on the health of Canada’s access to information regimes and test how readily officials disclose information that should be publicly available on request.

The web page page provides links on their FOI audits going back to 2005


About the association:

Newspapers Canada is a joint initiative of the Canadian Newspaper Association and the Canadian Community Newspapers Association.

The Canadian Newspaper Association (CNA) and the Canadian Community Newspapers Association (CCNA) are two separate organizations that partnered to create one strong industry voice for newspapers in Canada. Combined, the two associations represent over 830 daily, weekly, and community newspapers in every province and territory in Canada.

As an advocate in public policy, Newspapers Canada enables daily and community papers from coast to coast to speak with a unified voice when promoting newspaper interests to governments, regulators and the general public.


Also of interest, Newspapers Canada provides information about ownership of papers. This is a critical concern in Canada, which has one of the highest levels of “media concentration” in the OECD countries.


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