As we have reported (Risky business: Proposed changes to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy, CHW, 21-Feb), City Council is slated to make immediate amendments to the City’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy By-law. There are big problems with that.
We encourage the public to write or speak to City Council opposing this bylaw amendment (Feb 24 (Wed) Committee, meeting (starts 9:30 am, agenda item #7). Speakers can address Council. We encourage people do do so in person at the meeting or in writing. You may wish to encourage Council to undertake a full review of Vancouver’s FOI bylaw, policies, and practices AFTER the results of the current audit by the Provincial Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. The City should move toward best practices, and that means “proactive disclosure.” This is not rocket science, and good examples exist already.
Examples of proactive disclosure and better FOI practices.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi
Proactive disclosure of calendar, expenses and gifts. No FOI necessary.
Province of Alberta government expense disclosure
Includes receipts for travel and hospitality. Again, proactively disclosed. No FOI necessary.
Hamburg: Europe’s transparency capital
The Hamburg Transparency Portal (German)
This is a pioneering, one-stop information shop. It’s been called the gold standard for proactive disclosure.
Transparency International blog on the Hamburg transparency law
State of Washington: Obtaining Public Records
Even Canadians can make requests through Washington’s law, which has a five-day threshold for disclosing, delaying or denying.
A request for public records can be initiated in person, by mail, e-mail, fax, or over the telephone.
Agencies are required to respond promptly to your request. Within five business days after receiving a request, the agency must either:
1. Provide the record(s);
2. Acknowledge your request and give you a reasonable estimate of how long it will take to fully respond; or
3. Deny the request in writing, with reasons for the denial (this could also include a denial of part of your request and granting of the remainder). The agency must tell you the specific exemption or other law it relies upon for its denial.
British Columbia proactive disclosure recommendations of 2013 (important reading)
In July 2013, OIPC Commissioner Elizabeth Denham reported to the provincial government on its Open Data/Open Information initiatives.
She made a bold recommendation to proactively disclose information that is commonly requested under FOI: calendars/agendas for cabinet ministers and deputy and assistant deputy ministers, travel and hospitality expense reports and receipts, contracts and lists of contracts $10K and up, and reports about the performance of government. She also recommended the province consider other ways and means of releasing information without FOI requests.
Proactive disclosure would save money, cut red tape and increase trust in government. Here is a link to her report. Key recommendations are copied below.
A reporter’s FOI of the City of Vancouver asking if it had studied this report came back with a “no records” response.
Why doesn’t city hall, when it is looking to amend the FOI bylaw, go one step further and enshrine proactive disclosure in a bylaw? Why not fulfill the Mayor’s 2008 openness promise? During his inauguratin speech in 2008, first time elected as Mayor, Gregor Robertson said, “I will not let you down on making City Hall more open and accountable.” What happened after that was the opposite.
Recommendations with respect to open information (Excerpted from OIPC Commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s report to B.C. provincial government on its Open Data/Open Information initiatives.)
All ministries should implement s. 71 of FIPPA without further delay and establish categories of records for disclosure on a proactive basis. These obligations should be made part of letters of expectation for ministers and deputy ministers.
The minister responsible for FIPPA should direct ministries to proactively disclose the travel and hospitality expenses of ministers, deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers or their equivalent by purpose or event. The disclosed information should include the date of the event, destination, and expenses relating to flight, other transportation, accommodations, meals and incidentals, and the total amount spent for that particular purpose or event. This information should be published and searchable in an open data format.
The minister responsible for FIPPA should direct ministries to proactively disclose calendar information of ministers, deputy ministers and senior executives or equivalent. This release should contain the names of participants, the subject and date of external meetings and be published, at minimum, on a monthly basis.
The minister responsible for FIPPA should direct ministries to proactively disclose information relating to its contracts that are worth more than $10,000 on (at minimum) a quarterly basis. Contract information should include with whom the government is contracting, the purpose, value and duration of that contract, and information about the procurement process for the award of the contract.
The minister responsible for FIPPA should direct ministries to proactively disclose any final report or audit on the performance or efficiency of their policies, programs or activities.
The minister responsible for FIPPA should direct ministries to proactively disclose the records enumerated in s. 13(2) of FIPPA on a routine basis within a set timeline.
The Open Information website should be used as an online library to make information that must be disclosed across government more easily accessible by providing links to that information or a search function.