Re: Your complaint about the Township of South Glengarry
I am writing to inform you of the results of the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman’s review of your complaint about the Township of South Glengarry (the Township) handling of your requests for access to certain public records. For the reasons set out below, we will not be taking any further steps to address your concerns at this time.
In 2016, you complained to our office regarding the practice of the Township in directing all of your information requests to the Information and Privacy Commission. From December 2012 to June 2016, you were subject to a service restriction that required you to make formal requests to the Township and pay a fee in order to access otherwise public documents. As a result of our inquiries with the Township, this restriction was lifted and a policy of general application was implemented to govern all requests for access to public documents. The Township approved policies with respect to routine disclosures and to formal access requests under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. M.56 (MFIPPA). Both policies are linked on the “Freedom of Information” page of the Township’s website at: http://www.southglengarry.com/en/townhall/freedom-of-information.asp
The Clerk confirmed with our office that public records under various Acts that are not otherwise subject to restrictions under MFIPPA would generally be captured by the routine disclosures policy. The Clerk agreed to distinguish between routine disclosure, which does not require a formal MFIPPA request, and routine disclosure, which is administrative in nature and decisions thereof may be reviewed by the Ombudsman.
Current Request for Information
In a letter dated February 16,2018, the Township’s clerk, Kelli Campeau, informed you that the Township decided that your request for information “is being denied as I have deemed these requests to be frivolous and vexatious pursuant to Section 20.1 of the Municipal Freedom of Information Act.” Ms. Campeau further explained that “Your requests have been deemed frivolous and vexatious as I believe they are pad of a pattern of conduct that abuses the right to access”.
The clerk then lists the reasons why the Township decided that your request is frivolous and vexatious. The clerk stated that the requests were deemed frivolous and vexatious because they are “part of a pattern of conduct that abuses the right of access”. The clerk cited to the number of requests, five, occurring at once. The clerk also referenced the broad nature of the requests and that past requests of a similar nature were still under open investigation. Finally, the clerk referenced the timing of the requests, coinciding with complaints against staff and a statement of claim for small claims court.
She writes that you may appeal the Township’s decision to the Information and Privacy Commissioner (lPC), in accordance with the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“MFIPPA”). Per the letter, you have 30 days to appeal upon receipt of the letter from the Township.
You complained that the Township’s response was unlawful. You complained that these documents are public records that should be provided upon request. You complained that the Township’s refusal is not only illegal, but in contradiction of the basic principles of transparency and accountability of government. You described the Township’s conduct as discriminatory unlawful conduct, because they have denied the request not because of any reasons related to the request itself but because it is coming from you.
You complained to our office separately from your appeal to the lPC. You stated that you would like our office to look at ‘the manner’ that they have denied your request and how the Township has treated you, both in the process of making these requests and generally as part of a larger pattern going back multiple years.
You indicated that you consider the Township’s conduct to be unfair and discriminatory, as other taxpayers are not subject to similar restrictions on access to public records.
You believe that the Township is acting in bad faith and is abusing any discretion it may have with respect to providing access to public records and responding to your inquiries in general.
Nature of the Ombudsman’s Review
The Ombudsman is an independent and impartial officer of the Ontario legislature with authority to address complaints about the administrative conduct of municipalities, universities, school boards, and provincial government organizations.
The Ombudsman’s role with respect to municipalities is to review and investigate complaints about municipal government administration, including how local policies and procedures were applied and followed in the course of decision-making. When problems are identified, the Ombudsman may make recommendations to a municipality to improve its processes, as well as to strengthen local governance and accountability.
In the course of our review, we considered the information and documentation you provided to our office. We reviewed our previous inquiries with the Clerk of the Township and reviewed relevant correspondence. We also considered the Township’s policies and procedures, as well as relevant legislation. Specifically, we reviewed the Routine Disclosure policy created by the municipality in response to our office’s past inquiries.
Our review determined, per your formal information requests of FOI2O18-01-A, FOI2O18-02-B, FOI2O18-03-C, FOI2O18-04-D, FOI2O18-0E, all dated February 8,2018, you have triggered the MFIPPA procedure per section 17(1). Once this process is triggered, MFIPPA denials can only be heard by the lPC. The clerk cites to the specific “Frivolous request” provision in MFIPPA in order to deny your request. As the IPC has jurisdiction to determine the merit of a decision made under MFIPPA, such as the correct application of a specific MFIPPA provision and whether the provision has been relied on correctly, the IPC is the proper forum to raise your complaint about the municipality’s decision.
In response to your new complaint, our office reviewed the documents and correspondence with the Township you provided. As it is had been determined that you have chosen the MFIPPA process when you made formal requests for documents, our office does not have jurisdiction to review the Township’s denial. Therefore, as advised during our April 18 telephone conversation, I again refer you to the IPC to appeal the Clerk’s decision, if you have not already done so. The IPC can be contacted at 2 Bloor Street East, suite 1400, Toronto, Ontario, M4W 1A8, Telephone 1-800-387-0073.
Thank you for contacting the office of the ontario ombudsman.
Early Resolution Officer
Office of the Ontario Ombudsman