Municipality must adhere to privacy laws

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Sir: In response to your article of Nov. 16 entitled, “Local man wants his answers,” I would like to clarify some of the issues and comments attributed to Mr. John Cryderman.

First of all his assertion that “there are five people working full or part-time” handling Freedom of Information requests is false. We have only two employees handling Freedom of Information requests on a part time basis as part of their job.

The premise of the article seems to imply that the municipality is required to provide virtually any information requested. This again is false.

It needs to be understood that under legislation municipalities in some instances have an obligation not to disclose documents. Whenever a request for documents is made, analysis must be done to ensure we are not wrongly disclosing personal information or other information which we are not entitled to disclose.

Although this year we have provided hundreds of pages of documents to Mr. Cryderman and others as part of our commitment toward transparency and open government, we cannot always provide what is requested. Our legislated responsibility is to fulfil our obligations under the Freedom of Information Act. We cannot deviate from that to fulfil the wishes of one constituent.

In this instance, we are dealing with one piece of paper and it is our position that it contains information which should remain confidential.

There is a process in Ontario which allows the requestor to make application to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario to determine if we are rightly or wrongly withholding a document.

Mr. Cryderman has asked the Commissioner for a ruling in this matter. We have responded as well, however, since the matter is now before the Commissioner, we will reserve further comment pending the Commissioner’s decision. The municipality of course will abide by the decision of the Commissioner.

It should be noted that Mr. Cryderman has appealed matters in the past to the Commissioner. In every single instance the Commissioner has ruled that the municipality has withheld information properly and in accordance with law.

Contrary to the impression fostered by the article, the municipality routinely provides most residents with requested material without the formality of an FOI request. Many are handled through a telephone call or e-mail and don’t generate headlines.

In conclusion, staff members do not “fight constituents” to release information, as most residents can attest. We stand ready to serve Chatham-Kent residents and will continue to do so.

Don Shropshire

CAO

Municipality of Chatham-Kent

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