Nanaimo city hall

Nanaimo city hall

Complaint gets City of Nanaimo council video restored

NANAIMO – City of Nanaimo staff claim proper Freedom of Information policy often not followed correctly.

The City of Nanaimo has restored a blacked-out council meeting video after a complaint to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commission for B.C.

For two years, city watcher Ron Bolin has fought a decision by the city to black out a video recording of a notice of motion from a council meeting July 14, 2014. He said it was the first time he’d seen the city redact a video and he believed it would set precedent.

Bolin took his complaint twice to the privacy commissioner, which enforces privacy and access laws, with the first inquiry costing the city more than $20,000 in legal costs, according to a Freedom of Information request made by Bolin. The initial process was dismissed after it found Bolin hadn’t filed a required FOI request with the city. He tried again and by late September, the city voluntarily restored the video online and gave Bolin a copy, ending an OIPC process that appeared to be heading toward a second inquiry.

But it wasn’t the last time council retracted council video  and the city’s FOI coordinator Sheila Gurrie doesn’t believe process was followed in either case.

Gurrie and Tracy Samra, the city’s chief administrative officer, claim there’s been a history of interference by staff in what’s supposed to be a process handled independently by those designated to handle FOI requests.

Samra said she raised concerns in 2013 when she was manager of legislative services about the independency of the FOI head and that other staff have no authority under the bylaw, or law, to make decisions that have been delegated to that FOI head.

“What she’s saying is basically there’s been struggles throughout the years sometimes with staff interfering in the FOI process,” said Gurrie.

The City of Nanaimo records its council meetings, allowing the public to view the decision-making process in-person, live on television and online, or through recorded video.

Bradley Weldon, senior policy analyst for the privacy commissioner, said in the case of a recorded video, the city isn’t obligated to disclose it in the first place, under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act, and can retract under sections of that same act, in cases where disclosure of information invades a third party’s privacy.

According to legal documents posted on Bolin’s blog, the city initially claimed it retracted video from a July 14, 2014, meeting under two sections of the act, because statements were made about city employees and their employment history.

Gurrie said if there was a privacy breach it would have gone through her office but it did not. She is not aware of anyone other than herself who can redact information and said she was concerned that process wasn’t followed.

“In my speaking with the investigator at the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, if it had gone through me and had been considered a privacy breach we would have had the authority to redact the video after the fact. This isn’t, however, how it was done,” she said.

The city has restored the video online. The minutes of the meeting also did not include the full motion and is expected to be restored as well.

Video was severed again from a June 22, 2015 meeting, where city council talked about the Colliery dam, under the same sections of the act used in 2014. Gurrie said she had no knowledge of that redaction, either.

“Again, it wasn’t handled properly. It should have been a privacy breach. Should have been redacted as such after the fact, but it wasn’t and they redacted it based on some not-so-nice quotes they felt against our city lawyer at the time,” she said.

On the second retraction, Gurrie said she hasn’t been asked to review it.

Bolin said he pursued the video because it was the right thing to do. It should concern the public because it’s like a person and their word.

“To me, redaction in a case like this is the equivalent of a lie because something happened and all of a sudden you say, no that didn’t happen,” he said.

To see the restored video, please visit https://goo.gl/x9U7ED.