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Thread: City loses scuffle over billboards

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    C J Karira
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    City loses scuffle over billboards

    There have been numerous arguments on this forum about excessive number of applications, misuse of the RTI Act, harassing Government Officers with numerous RTI applications, etc...

    Here is a case from Toronto, Canada, where a citizen filed 606 FOI requests to City Hall in one year - all on subject of illegal billboards in Toronto city. Please also see the comment of one of the councillor's at the end of the news report.

    As reported by Jim Byers on the on 18 April 2008: | GTA | City loses scuffle over billboards

    City loses scuffle over billboards
    Requests about legality of signs lead to debate on information requests

    All Rami Tabello wanted was information about Toronto billboards. What he got was an Ontario ruling that suggested city bureaucrats are stonewalling the public.

    "I think the city's original decision was an outrage against transparent government," Tabello told the Star yesterday.

    "I believe Mayor David Miller wants open and transparent government, but ... the city clerk's department is undermining the way the mayor wants to operate the government."

    Tabello is co-ordinator of a website called and has been working diligently to rid the city of what he believes are thousands of illegal billboards. He's filed hundreds of Freedom of Information requests with the city over the years, but said he's been stymied in recent FOI attempts.

    "The city processed over 500 of our FOIs for billboard records," he said. "It was only after our website launched that they refused to process any more."

    Tabello appealed the city's position to the Ontario government and was rewarded with a favourable ruling from the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

    An April 10 ruling by adjudicator Catherine Corban stated that city officials felt Tabello's numerous requests were "an abuse of the right to access" and that they had "caused a burden" on the city's operations. She also said the city felt Tabello made his requests for "nuisance" value.

    "The city's submissions appear to suggest that it believes the appellant is submitting a large number of complicated requests for the purpose of gathering information to portray the city in a negative light on his website," Corban wrote.

    Corban said she didn't think the requests would interfere with city operations. She also found that Tabello's requests weren't made in bad faith, and she rejected the city's position that his requests were "frivolous or vexatious."

    A spokesperson for the IPC office said the city has to now issue a decision regarding Tabello's requests and that it cannot deny the information based on an argument that he's being frivolous or vexatious. But the IPC isn't dictating what the city's decision should be.

    While that means Tabello might still have to fight for the information he wants, he said he felt vindicated by Corban's ruling.

    "This ruling means I have the right to use government documents to criticize the government," he said, adding the city clerk's refusal to process his FOI request was an "outrage."

    "If anything is frivolous it's the veneer of transparency at city hall," he said.

    "If anything is vexatious, it's the way the city clerk administers the FOI."

    City spokesperson Kevin Sack said the city will look closely at the privacy decision and that officials hope to make the information fully public in the future, meaning Tabello wouldn't need to make special FOI requests.
    Sack said there was no intent to deny Tabello information but that the clerk felt Tabello's numerous requests would take away from resources needed to handle others.

    The city received more than 5,500 FOI requests last year and 85 per cent were granted, he said. Many other requests resulted in partial information being given out, and only one per cent of requests were denied in full, he said.

    Councillor Howard Moscoe said Tabello did the city a huge favour.

    "I think he's a civic hero for forcing us to be accountable for the bylaws we've passed," Moscoe said.

    Last edited by karira; 18-04-08 at 08:46 PM. Reason: formatting
    Twitter: @cjkarira


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