File photo                                The City of White Rock is seeking to block the OIPC order to release information on the water utility purchase requested in an FOI application from resident – and administration critic – Ross Buchanan

File photo The City of White Rock is seeking to block the OIPC order to release information on the water utility purchase requested in an FOI application from resident – and administration critic – Ross Buchanan

White Rock tries to block OIPC order

The city is down to the wire on appeal of freedom of information release on water utility decision.

An order from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner says the City of White Rock has until Monday to release information to a city resident relating to its decision to establish its own water utility – unless the city succeeded in a last-ditch attempt Thursday (after Peace Arch News’ press deadline) to reopen the original hearing.

The April 12 order, from OIPC adjudicator Chelsea Lott, says the city must give freedom-of-information applicant Ross Buchanan “access to all of the information it has withheld in the records by May 29.”

But Buchanan told PAN by email Thursday that the city and Metro Vancouver – potentially compromised by release of some of the information – had been given until noon that day for submissions to reopen the hearing.

“In the last few weeks… both the city and Metro Vancouver have spent a small fortune on lawyers attempt(ing) to block the decision and the release of the records,” Buchanan said. “They are doing everything they can to block the release of the records to the public.”

The city has argued that releasing the information would harm the financial and economic interests of the city, violate public-body confidences and might harm third-party business interests.

The records in question are part of an FOI request that Buchanan – a well-known critic of the current administration – filed with the city in April 2015, seeking information on the city’s 2013 decision to stay with its existing water supply rather than seeking access to water and water treatment through Metro Vancouver.

Buchanan’s original FOI request had triggered the subsequent release of information relating to the city’s contentious decision to purchase the water utility from previous owner Epcor – particularly, a corporate report on the acquisition of the utility discussed in the closed meeting of council on June 10, 2013 at which the decision to purchase took place.

Records of that meeting – which included a report on the business case for the purchase – have, to this point, only been released to Buchanan in heavily redacted form.

In late April, White Rock chief administrative officer Dan Bottrill told PAN the city was examining options for appealing the order, which could include a request for a judicial review.

“There is no question that we are looking at it – some errors were made,” he said.

Answering a followup question last Friday – a week after the 30-day deadline for a judicial review had passed – city communications manager Farnaz Farrokhi said only that “we are still reviewing our options.”

Thursday morning, Farrokhi said that was still the case, although she could not provide specific information on actions the city might yet take to block the release of documents.

At press time, no further information had been provided by the city, although Farrokhi said “the team is working towards some tight deadlines.”

Previous city arguments against releasing the documents had been rejected by Lott, who said in her April ruling that she found that the city “was not authorized or required to refuse access to the information it had withheld.”

She also took the city to task – repeatedly – for “unsupported assertions,” noting that scant evidence provided by the city would not even allow her to rule whether it had met the Community Charter requirements for closing the 2013 meeting to the public.

OIPC communications director Erin Beattie told PAN last month that OIPC orders are binding on a public body – up to BC Supreme Court level, if non-compliance is registered there.

“To date, we have not had a situation where a public body refused to comply with an order,” she said.

But Buchanan said Thursday that he believes the city is prepared to take the matter to the Supreme Court if necessary.

“(Don) Lidstone, the White Rock city lawyer, has indicated to the OIPC that he has been instructed to proceed with an appeal to the BC Supreme Court if his efforts are unsuccessful at re-opening and reversing the ruling by the OIPC,” Buchanan said.

He noted the OIPC ruling is expected by the end of today (Friday).