Collingwood is joining other area municipalities in calling for an update to the provincial legislation governing requests for documents under freedom of information laws.
Collingwood council endorsed a letter from Clearview Township to the province requesting updates to the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, particularly to lower the threshold for what constitutes a “frivolous or vexatious” request, and the application of fees to the requester to match the cost of gathering the information requested.
Collingwood Clerk Sara Almas said the act as it currently stands is an “archaic” piece of legislation that “hamstrings municipalities.”
She said it doesn’t address emerging technologies, and she suggested there should be more routine disclosure so constituents know who is asking for information.
She also suggested the threshold for what constitutes a frivolous or vexatious request is high and needs to be reconsidered.
“Some requesters can get abusive in language,” said Almas.
Over the last ten years, Collingwood staff have received about 200 requests under the freedom of information legislation and have produced more than 2,000 documents for those requests.
“It’s a significant amount of work,” she said.
The motion from Clearview Township and endorsed by Collingwood council calls for a modernization of administrative practices surrounding Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) duties, a review of the threshold for vexatious requests, and a reconsideration of the protection of anonymity of requesters.
The motion also asks the government to allow for scalability of the fees associated with requests under the act to “ensure taxpayers are protected from person abusing the access to information process.”
Simcoe County staff raised the issue during a recent county council meeting as well with the county’s clerk John Daly noting abuses of the system. He said Clearview Township fielded 790 requests from one person since 2011.
Many of the requests, Daly said, included abusive language toward elected officials and staff.
“The Act does not afford any sort of stop to say you can’t be abusive to staff. But if you had a resident come to your front counter and be abusive, many of you likely have policies that say they cannot be abusive to staff,” said Daly. “MFIPPA does not have any sort of a mechanism to stop the abuse from happening.”
He also noted one Simcoe County municipality estimated costs of $25,000 processing one MFIPPA request, but only collected $1,000 in fees.
“Taxpayers are paying for these requests," he added.
During a council meeting on Jan. 25, Councillor Steve Berman said he often used the act to make requests before he was a councillor at a cost he paid from his own pocket.
“I firmly believe the public should have access,” said Berman. “I don’t think it should be a burden on the taxpayers.”
Council endorsed Clearview’s petition to the province. You can read the full request from Clearview and Collingwood by clicking here.
-With files from Jessica Owen