Sly Pols & Crats

There is nothing slipperier than a politician or bureaucrat trying to avoid accountability while extolling how transparent and open they are. These craven creatures turn our access to information laws into the proverbial greased pig.

I came across a municipality that fails to publish their current or “in force” by-laws and corporate administrative policies in an easily accessible format. They require the public to ask if a specific by-law exists beyond an available but benign short list of “Frequently Requested Bylaws” dealing with pets, fences, sidewalks, garbage collection, noise control, etc.. To ask about a more obscure or contentious by-laws, say “Employee Use of Social Media during work hours”, or “Employee Computer Ethics Policy” or even the outcome of the town council debate to put in effect a “Code of Council Conduct” and “Establishment of an Ethics Commissioner” the Town bureaucrats will demand that you identity yourself and explain why you want a copy of the specific by-law or policy. The Town bureaucrats will then proceed to provide misinformation about the bylaw or corporate policy or at a minimum only tell you half of what you need to know and always the least important half. Finally, if you can find the by-law you are seeking, they insist that you pay search fees and copying charges according to their user fee schedule bylaw that is in excess of the provincial rates for access to information.

This municipality absolutely refuses to publish all of its current by-laws on the Town web site pleading a lack of resources and interest on the part of the town citizenry. So far, there is money for roads, sewers, and watering plants, but not for easy access to the town’s public documents. Furthermore, the town stipulated that access to the town records at the local Archives Society be prohibited for at least a fifty years.

Since the middle of the last decade, this municipality has published all of the minutes of council meetings on the Town website—usually weeks after the meeting. However, they have a peculiar way of publishing these public documents. They take a picture of them! They then put the picture into a Word document and then published it as an image in a PDF file. There are about 700 of these files and you must search each one manually.

This process is not about security. This prevents any search engine from indexing the content of the municipality’s public documents. They do not want just anybody searching the content of the municipality’s public documents. You cannot even search the content of individual documents from within a PDF reader. You have to read every document in its entirety!

Heaven forbid that the hoi polloi should know what the town council and its bureaucrats get up to and how they spend tax dollars. The councillors and their bureaucrats do not believe in a citizen’s right to access information about how they are governed and how government spends their money. They use the tired old excuse of a lack of resources for not making information freely available. They hold firmly to the belief that “if citizens do not know what we are doing, then they do not know what we are doing wrong or what wrong-doing we are up to”!

Don’t even think of filing an access to information request. They will hire a big city municipal law specialist to oppose this “hostile act”. They will demand exorbitant solicitor and search fees to obstruct your efforts and encourage you to abandon your request. They throw every exemption in the legislation at you. When all this fails, they trot out the old “frivolous and vexatious” exemption to deny your request. They work diligently to maintain an ignorant and misinformed citizenry. If only they worked as hard at the jobs they were elected to perform.