Changes to the City of Vancouver’s Freedom of Information bylaw were enacted at a Council meeting on February 24, 2016. The minutes of the Committee meeting reveal that there was an attempt to refer the proposed FOI bylaw changes back for public consultation and to await the results of the ongoing audit by the Privacy Commissioner:
All Council members from Vision Vancouver voted against taking the Freedom of Information bylaw changes to public consultation (Councillors Deal, Jang, Louie, Meggs, Reimer, Stevenson and Mayor Robertson). NPA and Green Party Councillors voted in support of the amendment for public consultation.
The changes to the City’s FOI bylaws literally came out of the blue. Full details about the changes are in our previous post: Risky business: (Proposed) changes to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy By-law, and how they could hurt Vancouver.
The changes to the bylaw included concentrating power into the hands of the City Manager as the “head” over Vancouver’s FOI decisions (until Feb 24, the “head” was a tripartite of City Manager, City Clerk and Director of Legal Services). We think that until other systemic issues are significantly improved (e.g., limits on corporate/union donations in civic elections, creation of a whistleblower system, full-time reporting of donations, etc.), it would have been a good thing to have the checks and balances of having those three positions involved. On February 24, Council also introduced new fees in the FOI bylaw.
It was also a surprise to see that the recommended amendments were set up for immediate adoption into law — the same day. Someone was in a huge rush to get the FOI bylaw changed. Perhaps some day the motivation for this rush will become clear.
On December 10, 2008, Mayor Robertson said, “We have a great opportunity right now with the big shift in the political winds to do things differently at City Hall” and “We want City Hall opened up.” (full video clip and speech are available here). Are the changes to the FOI bylaw and the lack of any public consultation taking the City further away from the Mayor’s goal of opening up City Hall?
In 2015, the City of Vancouver only posted the results of 4 out of 400 plus FOI requests. Many other jurisdictions post most if not all of the FOI results for public information on a website. Vancouver has significant gaps in “proactive disclosure” policies.