Financial barrier hinders access to restaurant reports
Minister told CBC in December that inspections reports are freely available
Restaurant inspection reports that Service N.L.'s minister said would be available to anyone who asked for them will cost the CBC hundred of dollars, according to a provincial government response to an access to information request.
In many parts of Canada such as B.C. and Ontario, inspection reports are available online — and even posted inside Toronto restaurants — but not in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Under Access to Information and Privacy Protection legislation, CBC News asked for all the restaurant inspection reports for January and February.
Service N.L. responded that it would cost almost $500 to get that information; about $350 to gather and prepare the information, and another $112 for photocopies of those documents.
The government's response said it would take 25 hours to gather and prepare the reports CBC requested.
Recently, other departments have waived those fees and simply emailed the documents as PDF files.
At the time, Service N.L. Minister Paul Davis said reports will be given to anyone who asks for them.
In a statement emailed to CBC Tuesday, Service N.L. said it stands by that promise.
"If a member of the public has concerns about a particular establishment, they are welcome to visit a Government Service Centre and request an inspection report. Our turnaround time for this type of activity is generally 5 to7 days," it said.
The department also defended the amount it is estimating CBC's request will cost.
"A standard request for one or several reports can and will be easily prepared and delivered free of charge to anyone in this province including the media, but when we have a request for hundreds of documents, we are required to use the provisions of ATIPPA to ensure that we complete the transaction appropriately," said the department's email.
All the reports requested by CBC would be freely available to everyone if the provincial government posted them online, as governments in other parts of Canada do.
Not posted online
More than three years ago the government floated the idea of posting inspections online, but when CBC News asked Davis about that idea again last December he said the government doesn’t plan to do it any time soon.
"To be frank, the number of inquiries received for food inspection reports is very small," he said.
In December, CBC News posted an online vote on this topic. It asked: should Newfoundland post inspections online?
More than 1520 of the 1778 people who voted in the survey, which is not scientific, chose this option: "Yes. I want to know what inspectors found before I go to a restaurant."
Reports available in other cities
In Toronto, inspection reports are posted in restaurants and online. The DineSafe program was brought in more than 10 years ago when the Toronto Star published a series of articles called "Dirty Dining."
It's changed the way restaurants operate there and it is believed to have achieved measurable health benefits.
Research has found that restaurants fix potential health problems more quickly when they are made public.
They've also found that the incidence of people getting sick after visiting restaurants has declined since the DineSafe program started — it’s not clear if the program is the direct cause of this decline.
Media reports say Toronto observed a decline in reported cases of food poisoning two years after the program was implemented.
According to Quebec numbers reported in a Montreal newspaper, about 50 per cent of food poisoning cases in that province can be traced to restaurants there.