New FOI fee led to drop in number of requests in B.C.

Hon. Lisa Beare, Minister of Citizens’ Services of British Columbia

Saw an interesting story in the Globe and Mail a couple of weeks ago:

B.C. saw 80% drop in access-to-information requests from media outlets after bringing in fee, report says

As reported in the article:

After British Columbia started charging $10 for each request for secret government information, media outlets dropped their applications by 80 per cent while opposition political parties halved their number, according to a new report from the provincial privacy watchdog.

Various users of British Columbia’s Freedom of Information (FOI) system are quoted to the effect that the new application fee adds unnecessary barriers to the FOI system. Even B.C. Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy is opposed to the $10 fee, and recently issued a report with his recommendations.

Minister Lisa Beare, who is responsible for British Columbia’s Freedom of Information system, states she intends to review the Commissioner’s report and will consider the recommendations made.

I’m interested in the significant drop in the number of requests, and wonder what to make of it.

Is it possible that so many of the requests previously made by media and opposition political parties were not worth even $10 to the people making them? If we consider that an average FOI request might take at least a couple of hours of government staff time to process (and possibly much more), then perhaps this reduction in the number of FOI requests is a good thing, from an efficiency perspective? One expects it should free up resources and allow government offices to respond more quickly to the requests that remain: those submitted despite the $10 fee.

It’s also possible that the same information is being obtained in different ways. Requestors might be more inclined to rely on informal requests, now that there is a fee attached to formal FOI requests in B.C. Or requestors might be less inclined to split a large requests into multiple smaller requests to avoid processing fees, now that there is an application fee charged for each such request. (Note that in B.C., there are no processing fees charged for the first three hours spent locating and retrieving a record.)

In any case, I will be watching this developing story with interest. I am always interested in ideas about reforming the FOI system in Ontario and elsewhere. (For example, should we allow institutions to charge for time spent decision making, as they do in Australia?)

I admit I am hopeful that this new $10 fee will be vindicated for leading to improvements in response times and client satisfaction with the FOI system in British Columbia—but only time will tell!

Run your FOI process more effectively

If you are at a provincial or municipal institution in Ontario which responds to Freedom of Information requests, you should use the FOI Assist software. The FOI Assist software guides you through the process under FIPPA or MFIPPA and significantly reduces the time your institution takes to process an FOI request. The FOI Assist software runs “in the cloud” and is accessed via your web browser, just like LinkedIn or Facebook. And it has a modern, easy-to-use interface; a 30-minute videoconference is all it takes to get your institution up and running.

For more information, read the release announcement, or better yet, book a demonstration to see for yourself how much of the FOI process the software can take care of for you.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Published by Justin Petrillo

I have created the FOI Assist™ software to help Ontario’s provincial and municipal government institutions of all sizes track and respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. For most of my career I have been a lawyer, advising clients on commercial, intellectual property and FOI/privacy issues. From 2013 to 2015, I managed the FOI program for the Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games Organizing Committee while serving as Legal Counsel to the Games. Prior to becoming a lawyer, I obtained a computer science degree and worked as a software developer at several well-known technology companies.

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