MacKay requests review of FOIP decision
City councillor asks city to provide written reasons justifying nature of complaint censorship
Saturday, Jul 05, 2014 06:00 am
A St. Albert city councillor is taking issue with the response to a recent freedom of information request made to the city by the St. Albert Gazette.
The Gazette received a response to its request to view complaints filed over some candidates’ election disclosures.
That response garnered copies of two complaints. On both complaints, the complainants’ names and the candidates being complained about were redacted.
Coun. Cam MacKay has sent a request to the city to review their decisions.
“This is the first step. I already contacted the province and they said to send it back to the reviewing body and get them to take another look and get their written reasons and pass it on,” MacKay said. “When you keep complainants secret and release just enough information so the identities of the candidates are known, this permits everybody that was mentioned to be slandered by these false accusations.”
While the names have been blacked out, some candidates – Ted Durham and Bob Russell – have confirmed they have been notified by the city someone has complained about their candidate financial disclosures filed after autumn’s municipal election.
In one of the complaints, candidates endorsed by the St. Albert Think Tank and supported through their advertising were referenced as being of concern, since the endorsed candidates did not list the support as an in-kind donation. However, due to the redactions it is impossible to tell if all of the candidates endorsed by the Think Tank were complained about, or just some, or if any other candidates were named as well.
The non-redacted text of the second complaint does not indicate the source of the writer’s concern, so it is unknown if the Think Tank-endorsed candidates are part of that complaint.
“Third party election endorsements are perfectly legal and occur in every election at every level,” MacKay said. “Every individual resident or group or person in the city is allowed to exercise their fundamental freedom to announce which candidates they support and which policies they support. It’s really a cornerstone of democracy and I don’t think the complainants understand that the complaints they’re making have just zero validity.”
The councillor believes the city – with Chris Belke in his role as the election’s returning officer and chief legislative officer – shouldn’t have gotten involved and should have directed the complainants to the province or the candidates directly.
MacKay would like the identity of the complainants to be released. “You have to find a very specific reason for withholding information and in this case I just can’t find it,” he said.
MacKay’s letter outlines his concerns with the way the disclosure was handled, including arguing that it’s in the public interest to have the names released and that those complained about have the right to know their accusers.
Belke, who in addition to being the city’s chief legislative officer also is in charge of matters pertaining to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, said he didn’t want to get into specifics but disagreed with some of MacKay’s letter.
“It lays out his opinion of the FOIP legislation and how that applies in this situation but I don’t necessarily agree with all the conclusions he’s reached,” Belke said.
“We’re consulting with Municipal Affairs, not just on this particular letter but the whole situation that’s sort of coming up around disclosure statements and how to treat them. We’re consulting with Municipal Affairs to determine what’s the appropriate way for these things to be dealt with,” Belke said.