Wednesday, April 6, 2016

When 2 Pages Is Worth $120.40


Going right back to my days on municipal council I've tried to help constituents track down information through the Freedom of Information process (media and politicians call the requests FOIPOPs). Since being elected provincially in 2009 I've submitted many FOIPOP requests to government and agencies, both for my own research and to assist others.

Some of the responses that I may write about one day are hilarious. Responses included claims no records exist (when I knew they did because I'd seen them); or had outrageous fee requests to process the applications (sometimes many thousands of dollars); or my personal favourite, getting the same record redacted differently in two different FOIPOP requests (once a FOIPOP I submitted came back entirely unredacted and someone else requested the same record and it came back heavily redacted).

The system is downright silly. It's not particularly worse under the current government. This is a long standing issue. But it should be fixed. Having personally seen how these things are handled, there is no central repository of information or way for FOIPOP officers to search. Requests largely rely on people checking their own files and responding whether they have any records which match the request. Requests rarely go to everyone they should. The bigger the department, and the more staff turnover, the worse it is.

You also can't pay or submit online as you need a cheque or money order (who has cheques anymore?). There is no central place to even submit information requests. As a result you can easily be given the runaround going from department to department as each says it's someone else's responsibility.

A response today made me laugh out loud when I got it. So I'm sharing. This is a request my office helped a constituent file. I've redacted the name and contact information of the person who requested it and the person who sent it as those details aren't relevant. Notice the following things....

  1. In their response, the IWK sends the requesting party back to the Department of Health and Wellness for an answer to their first question. However, Health and Wellness already sent this person to the IWK for the answer saying the IWK was responsible for it
  2. The IWK has determined they do have two pages of information which can answer the remaining question. However, to get a copy of those two (apparently very valuable) pages they want $120.40. Four hours at $30 per hour to prepare two pages and $0.20 a page for photocopying (um, could you e-mail it?)
I should say that over the past 6 years I have received a lot of FOIPOP requests back with no charge at all (some amounting to hundreds of pages). So there is no rhyme or reason to this.

But good to know two pages of information printed off an SAP file is worth $120.40 (can't forget the 40 cents!) By the way, it took a full month to get this response to a fairly routine inquiry. The two page response, in case you wondered, was free.