April 7th, 2007
Yesterday I mentioned that Mayor Hazel McCallion was runner-up in the 2005 World Mayor Contest. I also wrote that Madam Mayor was presented with a series of questions—one of which was raised by Pradheep of Mississauga:
“We hear constantly of cronyism and corruption on every level of government throughout the world. What steps did you take to prevent it in Mississauga?”
Mayor McCallion replied in part:
What we have done at the City of Mississauga is put into place measures to try to prevent corruption before it happens. We have an accountable and transparent governance system in place; procedures open to public scrutiny; a strong internal audit system; a responsible and effective senior management team; provide the public with access to information; allow public access to Council and committee meetings…
Today, I’d like to focus on the Mayor’s comments that “we” (meaning The Corporation of the City of Mississauga) “provide the public with access to information…”
First, regarding the statement that “we…provide the public with access to information”, while the Mayor makes this sound like The Corporation of the City of Mississauga has granted citizens access to information because of The Corporation’s enilightened commitment to democracy, fairness and cooperation, the fact is, Ontario guarantees “access to information” as a right under the Province’s “Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act R.S.O. 1990, Chapter M.56: where the Act states right from the Get-Go:
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
Access to Records
Right of access
4. (1) Every person has a right of access to a record or a part of a record in the custody or under the control of an institution unless,
(a) the record or the part of the record falls within one of the exemptions under sections 6 to 15; or
(b) the head is of the opinion on reasonable grounds that the request for access is frivolous or vexatious.”
So Access to Information isn’t a gift bestowed via the benevolence of a municipality but rather The Province guarantees “access to information” as part of a citizen’s basic rights.
Moving Forward… I direct your attention to Part 4(b) of the Act that “Every person has a right of access” to information… unless (b) the head is of the opinion on reasonable grounds that the request for access is frivolous or vexatious.”
While my investigation is still ultra-preliminary, there appears to be two main factors that help identify truly enlightened local democracies from their municipal-black-boxes-brethren.
The First is (you got it) Part 4(b) of the Freedom of Information Act: that is how quickly (and frequently) a municipality plays the ol’ “frivilous and vexatious” (“F ‘n V”) card on citizens making Freedom of Information Requests.
The Second, (and more important) factor is what proportion of a municipality’s total files/records/documents are classified as “OA” or “Open Access” where “Open Access” simply means you show up, smile and walk out with what it was you were asking for. You know, like—open-open.
Surfing the net today, I discovered a November 2000 report called “Routine Disclosure/Active Dissemination A Best Practice in the City of Mississauga”. This report was produced by The Corporation and the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.
It was a fun-read—especially this part:
“Although the City of Mississauga puts a lot of effort into making members of the public aware of their rights of access to records, the City only receives about 10 to 15 “formal” requests under the municipal Act on an annual basis—because information and documents are made widely available to the public.”
Tomorrow the Easter Bunny will explore the validity of this statement.
“We must employ every possible tactic to dissuade those who try to silence us with fear” —The Mississauga News Editorial (2007-03-24)