'It’s the time to change': Simcoe County clerks fight rude FOI requests

·3 min read

Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes says there’s a kink in the privacy laws.

After the township took the unusual step of passing a motion to disallow frivolous or vexatious Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, clerks across the province took notice and began demanding changes to the privacy legislation at the provincial level.

“The one dilemma is that legislation in one area of government contradicts legislation in another area,” Hughes said.

Hughes said health and safety regulations require a safe workplace free from harassment, yet the FOI privacy information doesn’t have that same provision.

“So if someone gets a request for an FOI and it’s inappropriate as far as language, they have to decide which regulation they’ll violate,” he said.

“This is significant; what is being recommended by the Simcoe County Clerks FOI Working Group is to handle that kind of situation the same way that Oro-Medonte (council) said they would. That is, if we got threatening communications of that nature that didn’t comply, then all we would do is send it back and ask them to revise it so that it does comply,” Hughes said.

Pamela Fettes, director of legislative services/clerk for Clearview Township and a member of the working group, suggests Oro-Medonte is on the right track.

“Legislation hasn’t been updated for 30 years and privacy has changed substantially in 30 years, and expectations of the public has changed considerably in 30 years as to what they expect from government institutions in protecting their information,” Fettes said. “So we really believe it’s the time to change, and the time to look forward to what the current state of privacy law should entail, but also look forward to what it needs to be to make sure we’re hitting targets.”

In addition to Fettes, the Simcoe County working group includes John Daly of Simcoe County, Dina Lundy of Wasaga Beach and Karen Way of Georgian Bay Township.

They have made presentations to clerks in Huron-Bruce County, Simcoe County, Leeds and Grenville United Counties, Wellington County, the Chatham Kent municipality, Oxford County and Essex County, as well as the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario (AMCTO) Legislative and Policy Advisory Committee.

The FOI clerks are asking the province to update all forms of communication, digitalize all interactions, create an equal playing field to handle requests, create a standards committee, and offer training.

“We strongly encourage it be reviewed on a regular basis to make sure the privacy legislation is being upheld and public expectations are being met,” she said.

At this stage, spokesperson for the Ministry of Government and Consumer Service Jack Sullivan said they’ve had constructive conversations with municipalities that have helped them identify the challenges with the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

“(It will help us) to consider options that support our commitment to transparency, accountability and providing better public services,” Sullivan said.

Cheryl Browne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance