The City of White Rock has changed a statement posted on its website Thursday morning that implied criticism of all freedom-of-information request applicants.
The statement had drawn criticism almost as soon as it was issued, including concerns later raised by Mayor Darryl Walker and other members of council.
While the city did not alert Peace Arch News to a change to the original statement, chief administrative officer Dan Bottrill confirmed Friday morning that it was amended Thursday afternoon, following consultation with Walker.
Bottrill acknowledged he had reviewed and authorized the initial statement before it was released, though he had not authored it.
“I had a conversation with Mayor Walker, and, on further review, the mayor and I made some changes,” he said. “I recognize why he made the changes, and I support Mayor Walker.”
Walker had told Peace Arch News Thursday before the change that, while he agreed with some parts of the statement, he took issue with criticism of those who exercised their rights to make freedom-of-information requests.
The unsigned statement came in response to an Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner report – also issued Thursday morning – on an audit that concludes that White Rock has “serious issues” with respect to how it manages freedom-of-information requests.
While the initial statement said the city accepted the recommendations of the audit, and has already taken policy actions to improve its practices, it also took aim at FOI applicants it claimed had caused difficulties through “vexatious, frivolous, or systematic requests.” It also mentioned that the city had sought – and been granted – relief from the OIPC from answering all of the requests from one individual who “was abusing the FOI process.”
Also under fire in the city statement was “a small number of other individuals (who) have also been making regular and coordinated FOI access requests and seem to be taking the matter to the (OIPC) regardless of the city’s response.
“These individuals seem to have more issues with sections of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) rather than the city’s response to their application,” it said.
In the revised version, reference to “vexatious” requests has been removed and reworded, as well as reference to an individual abusing the FOI process.
The further paragraph mentioning the “small number of other individuals” was also expunged.
Bottrill said the word “vexatious” did not appear in the OIPC report and that “on reflection, it was decided to stick with the words that the senior adjudicator made in this decision.”
He said that city staff, in issuing the statement, had “wanted to make sure there was some context with regard to the 2016-2017 period and the abuses that were taking place at that time.”
But he also noted that the statement principally acknowledges that the city accepts the recommendations, and is acting on them.
“I think it’s important for anyone to know that we’re doing this and that the city takes it seriously,” he said. “I think that may have got lost here.”