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Freedom of Information don’t come free
Cowichanians wanting regional documents through freedom of information requests could be in for a rough ride, as a Saltair couple discovered.
Locals may also learn how their politicians and staff can share your personal information.
It took Cory and Caroline Paisley months to get an unedited copy of Cowichan Valley Regional District emails regarding their rezoning application for their Branksome Road home.
They finally got them during a court process, not from the CVRD FOI committee, leaving them frustrated and ready to file a complaint about the CVRD’s handling of the situation with the provincial FOI office.
But CVRD staff and directors insisted the couple was given all documents allowed under freedom and privacy rules.
“People can expect us to meet our dual role,” said CVRD FOI co-ordinator Kathleen Harrison, “to access information, and to protect personal privacy.”
CVRD bylaws also guard sources with information about bylaw enforcement.
That includes a rezoning for an secondary suite sought by the Paisleys who were at odds with their neighbours.
The Paisleys requested — through CVRD FOI rules — all emails and documents about their June 2009 rezoning application, which they eventually pulled in September 2010.
In February 2010 they got a version of a Jan. 4, 2010 email stating they were involved in a neighbourhood dispute that was headed to court. But the names of those involved in the email chain had been edited out by Harrison.
Through legal channels, the Paisleys later determined the emailer was their neighbour, Rae Jacobson, and the message sent to former CVRD chairwoman Gerry Giles and Saltair Director Mel Dorey. Dorey forwarded it to CVRD planning and development manager Tom Anderson, who then sent it to planners involved in the rezoning application.
Paisley thinks the email should have been irrelevant to his rezoning application and may have unfairly prejudiced it. He also thinks Dorey overstepped his bounds by sending it to staff. And he wants to know why the names were removed in the first place.
“The CVRD takes liberties with editing,” he said. “Government (process) should be transparent.”
Decisions about names to redact were made by CVRD FOI committee members/administrators Joe Barry and Warren Jones, and herself, Harrison explained.
“Under the legislation, this record was severed to protect the identity of the individual who made the (email) complaint to the CVRD,” she said.
Barry, meanwhile, confirmed directors, such as Dorey and Giles, use their own discretion about information sharing.
Dorey explained he tipped Anderson about Paisley’s pending court date in case the Saltair fracas escalated.
“This was becoming a legal matter, not a rezoning one,” Dorey said. “If I let it go I might be liable for covering up information that let something get out of hand.”
Giles denied staff tried to hide email names for political reasons — or to jinx Paisley’s rezoning.
“Court cases don’t play into anything we do, particularly involving land-use decisions,” she said, noting CVRD rezonings happen based on appropriate land use.
The moral to Paisley’s paper chase, he said, is to know your rights.
“Most people don’t know how easy it is to check what’s in your (local government) file, and which neighbours make false claims against you,” he said.
“Go through the freedom of information, and know the rules.”
Why the names were removed
Th CVRD’s editing of documents requested by Cory and Caroline Paisley happened under B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, sections 14, 15, and 22, staff said.
FOI’s Elizabeth Darche could not comment on the case, noting appeal action.
CVRD’s FOI committee considered various parts of the sections before redacting emails requested by the Paisleys.
• Section 14 concerns legal advice.
“The head of a public body (CVRD) may refuse to disclose to an applicant (Paisley) information that is subject to solicitor-client privilege.”
• Section 15 covers Disclosure harmful to law enforcement.
Subsection 1 says, “The head of a public body may refuse to disclose information to an applicant if disclosure could reasonably be expected to (a) harm a law enforcement matter, (f) endanger the life or physical safety of a law enforcement officer or any other person, (h) deprive a person the right to a fair trial or impartial adjudication.
• Section 22 concerns Disclosure harmful to personal privacy:
Subsection (1) says, “The head of a public body must refuse to disclose personal information to an applicant if disclosure would be an unreasonable invasion of a third party’s personal privacy.
(2) In determining unreasonable invasion of personal privacy, the head of a public body must consider, among other things, if (e) the third party will be exposed unfairly to financial or other harm, (f) the personal information has been supplied in confidence, and (g) the personal information is likely to be inaccurate or unreliable.