Noted: that at work we process a pretty large number of request per year under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA for short, or for even shorter, FOI.) There’s a lot, but most are pretty routine, so it’s not overwhelming.
Also noted: some of these requests are for information that should be publicly release-able without going through the FOI process.
Strictly speaking, I shouldn’t be processing those. I should be returning applications and fees back to the requesters, and telling them who in the various city departments to contact instead. But often I simply do the requests like any other.
The reason is the same reason why these requesters are going through the FOI process rather than just asking: many people feel much more comfortable dealing with a neutral third party.
Say you’re an average citizen, living a quiet life. And then something happens that you care very much about, to the point where you need to speak up. So now you’re writing the newspaper, you’re organizing protest groups, you’re making deputations to Council, talking to City administration about your issue. In order to do a decent job of it, you need information — you need the same information that your political opponents have access to. And the people you need to get the information from are the ones you believe to be against you.
I am not saying that City staff are hostile, or have been refusing to release information that should be public. But when tensions are high, you need someone who can take a neutral stance. Requesters like that I’m someone they’ve never met before, working in a different physical location, and sticking to provincial law by meeting deadlines and keeping them anonymous. It makes for, I think, a much safer-feeling environment when going up against bureaucracy. And I’ve been told that quite directly, a number of times: “I’d rather just pay the application fee and deal with you guys instead.”
The third way, of course, is releasing much more information proactively.