Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

The Board of the Gabriola Fire Protection Improvement District Board issued a statement at its last meeting, read aloud by Chair Paul Giffin.

In it, the Board outlines the difficulties that Freedom Of Information requests are placing on the Board, the District’s budget, and the office staff.

As Giffin read, the District is required to comply with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

According to Giffin, the Act is administered by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC).

Giffin said, “the Act requires that the “head of the body” as noted in the Legislation is identified. In our case it is the Chair.

“The Act specifies…the maximum charge for any FOI request is $10.00. The first 3 hours of searching are not billable. Should any material not be in electronic format and need to be photo copied a fee may be levied. Every attempt should be made to release information in an electronic format. Redacting costs of the documents are borne by the Board.”

Giffin outlined that when a person applies for information, and the $10 fee is received, a cursory search is done for the information requested.

“This results in a cost estimate for the production of the documents. This cost is then forwarded to the applicant (requestee) and once a response is received from them, action based on that response is taken. Either the request is completed or abandoned.”

He gave a review of the FOI requests received by the District, as of February 2, 20224.

Giffin said the first request in the history of the Gabriola Volunteer Fire Department was received in May 2022.

One request resulted in 900 pages of documents being released.

Giffin said the last request was received on Feb 1, 2024.

He said, “a total of four people have made requests. Three of these folks have had their issues resolved.”

Giffin said the one other person has made nine FOI requests, as well as a further 14 requests for information via email, and has submitted in excess of 40+ emails.

“Of note. In the nine FOI requests for information submitted there are usually two or three bullet points and in those bullet points are more requests.”

He said most of the responses provided by the District have resulted in a complaint to the OIPC by the applicant and an investigation has resulted.

“As a result of the investigations some requests have been modified. Once the OIPC is involved that increases the time it takes to resolve the request as all the material must go to Victoria for review.”

Giffin said the requests have been for documents that in some cases are in excess of 20 years old, and/or expired.

Giffin outlined the effect of the requests on the District saying that all these requests have had a negative impact on the Board, the Corporate Officer, and Fire Department.

Some examples given were:

• Impeded the training of the new Corporate Officer

• Delayed implementation of new accounting procedures

• Has resulted in increased and unbudgeted costs in the form of fees and overtime

• Has caused harm to the Board and the Fire Department in that disinformation has been published that the board cannot respond to due to confidentiality restrictions

In response to the requests, Giffin said the Board has made multiple requests to have a meeting with the individual in order to facilitate the resolution of the issues they may have.

Giffin said, “These have all been rebuffed.”

Per the statement that Giffin read, when the initial requests were received the Board did not charge the $10.00 fee. Charges were levied for photocopying. There is no provision to charge for time redacting documents.

He said over the course of the last many months hundreds of volunteer hours have been spent dealing with these requests. And that these requests have strained relations between contractors and the GFPID.

Giffin explained the Board has dealt with seven different investigators at the OIPC thus far.

“Requests have been made to have one investigator at the OIPC deal with this individual and the related requests. To date we have not had a response to this request.

“The matter of frivolous and vexatious requests has been addressed twice to which the OIPC has advised, “you are not there yet.”

“On Dec 11, 2023 the Board held an in-camera meeting to discuss this issue. While the standard for in-camera meetings are for legal, land and personnel, this meeting was held in-camera due to the confidentiality requirements of the Freedom of Information Privacy Act. The negative impact these FOI requests was having on the operations of the fire department were reviewed. Given the nature and volume of work these requests were having enquiries were conducted prior to the meeting with respect to getting some assistance.”

Giffin said it was decided by the Board to hire Privacy Works, and that the cost of this firm was roughly one-third the cost of a lawyer.

“It should be noted that the use of Privacy Works will not totally relieve the pressure on the Corporate Officer as she will still have to find the documents in question but it will relieve both myself and the Corporate Officer of trying to keep up with ongoing evolution of what can and cannot be legally released or redacted. They will also create the necessary correspondence and deal with the Privacy Commissioner.”

Giffin said as of February 5 2024, the Board received an invoice for $4,526.00 for services.

On February 16, Giffin issued a statement via the GVFD web site stating that as of February 19, 2024, the front office at the Albert Reed Memorial Fire Hall #1 would be closed to the public due to a number of ongoing issues including the following;

• Yearly financial audit

• Year-end preparations

• To reduce unusually high external pressures on staff.

The statement says, “the Board of Trustees is obligated to provide their employees with a harassment free workplace.”

Wayne Mercier identified himself to the Sounder after the meeting as the individual who had been submitting the FOI requests which Giffin was addressing.

He said that the statement that he had rebuffed the Board’s offer to meet was not true.

Mercier said, “I will meet with the Chair, or duly appointed representatives of the board, in a neutral space accessible to the public. (eg: the Library meeting room).

“I would also agree to speak as a delegation to the board at a properly resolved and recorded in camera portion of a public meeting.

“I am not interested in meeting informally, and would expect that the record of any such meeting be accepted formally by the board.”

Mercier said Chair Giffin had requested, “that we meet back in May 2023 when I made my request for bylaws. I did not acknowledge the request at that time, but in the course of mediating my request for the Albert Reed report the board suggested by way of the OIPC that a meeting might be productive.

“I responded through the same mediation that I would be willing to meet, but not at the firehall. I suggested instead that a meeting at the library would be more suitable. I received no response.

“I was later approached through email by trustees [Ken]  Moen and [John] Moeller in November. At that time I reiterated my unwillingness to meet at the firehall and again suggested the library as a more appropriate venue. I received no response to my counteroffer.

“I did have an hour long, informal, talk with Trustee Moen after the meeting on Dec. 6 where I went through many of my concerns.”

Mercier provided a list of the items which he has requested information for:

• The bylaws of the improvement district (originally all bylaws, now just those passed since 2000)

• Records about the modifications to the Brownlee Contract (mentioned in the minutes of Oct. 05, 2022)

• Records relating to the value and ownership of the Mallet Creek Dam

• Records relating to the Tugboat Island Agreement (mentioned in the minutes of August 04, 2021)

• Finance Committee minutes, the Albert Reed Report, and the Code of Conduct (concluded, after the board attempted to have my requests declared vexatious or burdensome)

• Records of resolutions to hire a Deputy Fire Chief and Accountant

• Records of all readings of the 2024 Taxation Bylaw

Mercier said one more request has been made to the Board regarding records from mid-2023. That was formally received by the Board on Feb. 1, and the Board has until March 13 to respond.

Mercier said, “there may be something there that I missed, and some responses have resulted in multiple investigations because different areas of FIPPA have been cited by the board in their refusal.

“It is worth noting that the board has refused, at almost every turn, to release records requested through FIPPA, instead issuing, almost uniformly, blanket refusals.

“And worth noting that I did not make formal requests until the board made it clear that informal requests were unwelcome (and often unanswered).”

Mercier said more detailed information on his FIPPA requests can be found at

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