Canada’s Freedom of Information laws are not fit for purpose.

The Globe and Mail’s “Secret Canada” series shows how difficult it is to get information from the Government and from public bodies. 

Their conclusions chime with my own experience.

For the past year I have been searching for the answers to the Greenbelt Scandal in the municipality of King, next door to where I live in Newmarket. I am interested in the story of how prime agricultural land in the protected countryside in the Greenbelt came to be opened-up for development. Some people were in line to make millions of dollars - until Doug Ford did his U-turn. We still don’t know the full story and await the outcome of the RCMP investigation.

Endless delay

I’ve filed countless Freedom of Information requests with King and with Southlake Hospital and with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and hit road blocks at every turn. Endless delays. Staggering costs. Hoping I just go away.

I have been told no records exist when they do. Yet there are no consequences for those who dissemble and who knowingly give false information. There have been unconscionable delays with every request strung out for as long as possible before I get an answer. 

Public institutions such as municipalities and hospitals are obliged to keep records. But, too often, they pay lip service to this legal requirement. 

And the costs of getting information can be significant. It all adds up.

"Expedite development" 

On 7 November 2022 King’s Mayor, Steve Pellegrini moved a motion at Committee supporting the location of a new Southlake on Greenbelt lands gifted by the developer Michael Rice. The motion directed staff: 

“to work with the landowner, Province, and Southlake Regional Health Centre to expedite development approvals for these lands” 

But when I asked King to show me how staff implemented this direction from Council I was told this information would cost me $1,035.

After some toing-and-froing with the Township I narrowed down my request to save money. Under the terms of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act 1990 I only wanted “exempted information” (ie information they couldn’t withhold because, for example, it was already in the public domain.) But I was told this exempted information was mixed in with other protected information that would not be released. 

The Township’s Clerk, Denny Timm, told me:

 I understand you wanted to narrow your request by excluding responsive records where sections 9, 10, 11 and 12 would apply and for those parts of section 7 other than the exceptions. In reviewing the responsive records, all records that have section 7 applied to them also have other exemptions applied to them, such as section 12 or section 11, and therefore would still be exempted from disclosure.

I am unsure how you want to proceed at this stage knowing this. Please give some consideration to this and let me know.

Clearly, all this material would have to be reviewed by King staff and much of it would blacked-out. In these circumstances do I still want to go ahead and spend $1,035 and, perhaps, be none the wiser? Probably not.

Shared Vision

When I asked the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for sight of records relating to the draft agreement between the Provincial Land and Development Facilitator and Michael Rice, the owner of the Bathurst lands, I was told it would cost $482 and would likely be heavily redacted as the request involved the interests of a third party (ie the landowner).

The Integrity Commissioner’s report on Steve Clark refers to the work of the Provincial Land Development Facilitator:

[255] The Provincial Land Development Facilitator, Paula Dill, advised that she was given a mandate by Minister Clark to facilitate discussions on the 15 sites that were removed or redesignated “to achieve development agreements that would accommodate a shared vision for attaining the government objectives on these sites.”

[256] As of August 7, 2023, Ms Dill advised me that no final agreements have been reached but she has reached agreements in principle or draft agreements with respect to eight of the 15 areas removed or redesignated, namely: King Township, Minotar, Block 41, Leslie Elgin, Cline Road, 502 Winston Road, Nash Road, and Barton Street.

What was this shared vision between the Provincial Government and Michael Rice relating to the Greenbelt lands at Bathurst? I doubt we shall ever know. But whyever not? Surely the public interest demands disclosure.

Mystery landowner

I have several long-running appeals to the Information and Privacy Commissioner who shortly may order the release of some key information, allowing me to join up squillions of dots. I hope to learn by 21 December 2023 the name of Mayor Pellegrini’s mystery landowner who offered land in King for a new Southlake. And perhaps, at long last, I shall learn the name of the Southlake Board member who declared a conflict of interest to the Board meeting on 22 September 2022.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Click "read more" below for relevant sections of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy act 1990

Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act 1990

Advice or recommendations

7 (1) A head may refuse to disclose a record if the disclosure would reveal advice or recommendations of an officer or employee of an institution or a consultant retained by an institution.
(2) Despite subsection (1), a head shall not refuse under subsection (1) to disclose a record that contains,

(a) factual material;
(b) a statistical survey;
(c) a report by a valuator;
(d) an environmental impact statement or similar record;
(e) a report or study on the performance or efficiency of an institution;
(f) a feasibility study or other technical study, including a cost estimate, relating to a policy or project of an institution;
(g) a report containing the results of field research undertaken before the formulation of a policy proposal;
(h) a final plan or proposal to change a program of an institution, or for the establishment of a new program, including a budgetary estimate for the program;
(i) a report of a committee or similar body within an institution, which has been established for the purpose of preparing a report on a particular topic;
(j) a report of a body which is attached to an institution and which has been established for the purpose of undertaking inquiries and making reports or recommendations to the institution;
(k) the reasons for a final decision, order or ruling of an officer or an employee of the institution made during or at the conclusion of the exercise of discretionary power conferred by or under an enactment or scheme administered by the institution.
(3) Despite subsection (1), a head shall not refuse under subsection (1) to disclose a record if the record is more than twenty years old.Relations with governments

9 (1) A head shall refuse to disclose a record if the disclosure could reasonably be expected to reveal information the institution has received in confidence from,
(a) the Government of Canada;
(b) the Government of Ontario or the government of a province or territory in Canada;
(c) the government of a foreign country or state;
(d) an agency of a government referred to in clause (a), (b) or (c); or
(e) an international organization of states or a body of such an organization.
(2) A head shall disclose a record to which subsection (1) applies if the government, agency or organization from which the information was received consents to the disclosure.Third party information

10 (1) A head shall refuse to disclose a record that reveals a trade secret or scientific, technical, commercial, financial or labour relations information, supplied in confidence implicitly or explicitly, if the disclosure could reasonably be expected to,
(a) prejudice significantly the competitive position or interfere significantly with the contractual or other negotiations of a person, group of persons, or organization;
(b) result in similar information no longer being supplied to the institution where it is in the public interest that similar information continue to be so supplied;
(c) result in undue loss or gain to any person, group, committee or financial institution or agency; or
(d) reveal information supplied to or the report of a conciliation officer, mediator, labour relations officer or other person appointed to resolve a labour relations dispute.
Consent to disclosure
(2) A head may disclose a record described in subsection (1) if the person to whom the information relates consents to the disclosure.Economic and other interests

11 A head may refuse to disclose a record that contains,
(a) trade secrets or financial, commercial, scientific or technical information that belongs to an institution and has monetary value or potential monetary value;
(b) information obtained through research by an employee of an institution if the disclosure could reasonably be expected to deprive the employee of priority of publication;
(c) information whose disclosure could reasonably be expected to prejudice the economic interests of an institution or the competitive position of an institution;
(d) information whose disclosure could reasonably be expected to be injurious to the financial interests of an institution;
(e) positions, plans, procedures, criteria or instructions to be applied to any negotiations carried on or to be carried on by or on behalf of an institution;
(f) plans relating to the management of personnel or the administration of an institution that have not yet been put into operation or made public;
(g) information including the proposed plans, policies or projects of an institution if the disclosure could reasonably be expected to result in premature disclosure of a pending policy decision or undue financial benefit or loss to a person;
(h) questions that are to be used in an examination or test for an educational purpose;
(i) submissions in respect of a matter under the Municipal Boundary Negotiations Act commenced before its repeal by the Municipal Act, 2001, by a party municipality or other body before the matter is resolved.Solicitor-client privilege

12 A head may refuse to disclose a record that is subject to solicitor-client privilege or that was prepared by or for counsel employed or retained by an institution for use in giving legal advice or in contemplation of or for use in litigation.