Overburdened public bodies seek fees, restrictions on freedom of information requests
Changes to freedom of information legislation should consider fee changes, deadline extension, some say
The Manitoba public bodies which are bound by law to release records under freedom of information legislation want more help with their workload.
In submissions to a government review, some public bodies said they wanted fees to be implemented, their deadline to respond extended and the means to limit the number of requests from certain filers.
The opinions come from a review into Manitoba's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) two years in the making.
The nine-page document makes no recommendations on behalf of the government, but broadly outlines the suggestions from public bodies, organizations, individuals and media who took part in the review.
Law asking for too much: public bodies
The public bodies said they're being asked to do much in not enough time — and without sufficient compensation.
They expressed that some applicants frequently make many requests, which strains their ability to respond to everyone within 30 days.
"Public bodies reported that some requesters divide large requests for records into several smaller requests in order to avoid or eliminate fees. Without the ability to assess fees for smaller requests or other authorized recourse, a public body is left with the challenge of managing the high volume of requests," the review said.
Currently, there is no cost to submitting an access to information request, but a public body may tack on a price after two hours of work.
These fees, which have not changed since the act's implementation in 1998, do not reflect the time it takes to complete a request, some participants said.
"Several submissions noted that the implementation of an application fee would mitigate the filing of numerous requests for related information," the report said.
A price of any kind has been considered a barrier to access, critics say.
"It was also suggested that there be a limit on the number of requests an applicant can submit to a public body at one time."
Limits to number of requests
The freedom of information legislation applies to more than 340 public bodies in Manitoba, including municipalities, school boards, colleges, universities and regional health authorities.
Government departments and agencies received 2,045 applications in 2015 compared to 542 applications at the turn of the millennium, according to a government document prepared in 2017. Political parties have become the applicants most likely to file requests, which sometimes result in attacking points against the party in power.
Many participants called on the government to restrict the number of records exempt from public consumption, the report said. There was particular interest in unsealing documents considered advice to cabinet or a public body.
Another common recommendation, the review cited, was to ensure that documents deemed to clearly be in the public interest outweighs the usual privacy exceptions.
There was also calls to enable more online access to public information.
The government said the various suggestions are being reviewed and researched by the government.
The province last reviewed its freedom of information legislation in 2014.