Hy­dro blocks ac­cess to info

Util­ity with­hold­ing doc­u­ments de­spite ad­ju­di­ca­tor’s rul­ing

North Bay Nugget - - FRONT PAGE - Gord Young

North Bay Hy­dro ap­pears de­ter­mined to keep Don Ren­nick from get­ting his hands on some of its fi­nan­cial records.

Ren­nick, an out­spo­ken mem­ber of the for­mer North Bay Tax­pay­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, re­cently re­ceived a favourable rul­ing from an ad­ju­di­ca­tor for the In­for­ma­tion and Pri­vacy Com­mis­sioner of On­tario re­gard­ing the lo­cal util­ity’s de­nial of three Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quests.

In a writ­ten rul­ing last month, the ad­ju­di­ca­tor re­jects the ar­gu­ments of North Bay Hy­dro Ser­vices (NBHS), a sub- sidiary of North Bay Hy­dro, that it could deny Ren­nick ac­cess to the in­for­ma­tion on the grounds that his re­quests are “friv­o­lous or vex­a­tious.

“I do not up­hold NBHS’S de­ci­sion that the re­quests are friv­o­lous or vex­a­tious and or­der it to is­sue de­ci­sions for each of the three re­quests,” states the rul­ing.

NBHS, how­ever, is con­tin­u­ing to with­hold the records, cit­ing a num­ber of other rea­sons un­der the Mu­nic­i­pal Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion and Pro­tec­tion of Pri­vacy Act – all of which could ul­ti­mately be sub­ject to ap­peal should Ren­nick re­main dogged.

A re­tired ac­coun­tant, Ren­nick has taken a keen in­ter­est in the lo­cal hy­dro util­ity’s op­er­a­tions and has taken up sim­i­lar fights in re­cent years to pull records.

At hand in his lat­est at­tempt are re­quests for ac­cess to agree­ments re­lated to a co-gen­er­a­tion plant at the North Bay Re­gional Health Cen­tre, in­clud­ing those that may per­tain to fund­ing, con­struc­tion, own­er­ship and op­er­a­tion.

Ren­nick also wants to have a look at the NBHS’S fi­nan­cial state­ments from 2013 to 2016, and to know just how much it has spent in le­gal fees fight­ing his ef­forts to get in­for­ma­tion since 2013.

As part of its “friv­o­lous or vex­a­tious” claim, NBHS ar­gued that Ren­nick’s re­quests are part of a pat­tern of con­duct that amounts to an abuse of the right of ac­cess and one that would in­ter­fere with it op­er­a­tions. The sub­sidiary also sub­mit­ted that the re­quests were made in bad faith and for a pur­pose other than to ob­tain ac­cess.

To back up its ar­gu­ments, NBHS pointed to the tim­ing and num­ber of re­quests made by Ren­nick, as well as sep­a­rate re­quests by him for in­ter­venor sta­tus in rate ap­pli­ca­tion pro­cesses.

But the ad­ju­di­ca­tor ruled that NBHS failed to prove a pat­tern of con­duct and that Ren­nick’s in­volve­ment in a sep­a­rate process isn’t rel­e­vant to his re­quests for in­for­ma­tion.

“In my view, nei­ther the num­ber nor tim­ing of th­ese three re­quests can rea­son­ably be de­scribed as a pat­tern of con­duct,” states the rul­ing. “Even if I con­sider that the ap­pel­lant pre­vi­ously sub­mit­ted two other re­quests to NBHS, sev­eral years prior, I do not ac­cept that five re­quests over the course of four years con­sti­tute rea­son­able grounds to con­clude a pat­tern of con­duct.”

Ac­cord­ing to the rul­ing, NBHS also ar­gued a clear in­fer­ence may be drawn that Ren­nick’s re­quests have been sub­mit­ted for no other pur­pose than “their nui­sance value and have been made with­out rea­son­able or le­git­i­mate grounds.”

The sub­sidiary sub­mit­ted that he has sin­gle-mind­edly pur­sued a cam­paign against North Bay Hy­dro and its re­lated com­pa­nies, and some­times as a corol­lary tar­get, the city.

To sup­port that po­si­tion, NBHS pointed to an af­fi­davit from its pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer that de­scribed a “long his­tory of ap­proach­ing the North Bay Cham­ber of Com­merce, var­i­ous city coun­cil­lors, and ap­pear­ing be­fore city coun­cil of North Bay to launch at­tacks against the city’s hy­dro com­pa­nies and its staff.”

The af­fi­davit also noted Ren­nick sub­mits let­ters to the ed­i­tor to lo­cal me­dia mak­ing se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions against NBHS with an aim to dis­credit its em­ploy­ees, as well as those of North Bay hy­dro com­pa­nies.

NBHS sub­mit­ted the Ren­nick is en­gag­ing in a “cam­paign of mis­in­for­ma­tion” and his “plain in­tent” in fill­ing the re­quests is to “ha­rass, in­ter­fere with, and bur­den the city’s hy­dro com­pa­nies and the peo­ple who run and work at th­ese com­pa­nies.”

But the ad­ju­di­ca­tor dis­agreed. “I ac­knowl­edge that there has been some ten­sion in the in­ter­ac­tions be­tween the ap­pel­lant and the NBHS. How­ever, I do not find that I have suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence be­fore me that sup­ports a con­clu­sion that the ap­pel­lant has no in­ter­est in the in­for­ma­tion that he seeks through the free­dom of in­for­ma­tion ac­cess scheme or that he has filed the re­quests for the pur­pose and in­tent of ha­rass­ing NBHS,” states the rul­ing. “From my re­view of the re­quests, they are clear, well de­tailed and ap­pear to tar­get spe­cific types of in­for­ma­tion about spe­cific sub­ject mat­ters.” The ad­ju­di­ca­tor wrote she ac­cepts that Ren­nick, who “ap­pears to be highly en­gaged in how NBHS con­ducts its busi­ness, would have a le­git­i­mate pur­pose and in­tent to seek ac­cess to this type of in­for­ma­tion.

“There­fore, I am not of the view that his re­quests are for a pur­pose or in­tent that amount to an abuse of the right of ac­cess. Based on the ev­i­dence be­fore me, I ac­cept that the pur­pose and in­tent of the ap­pel­lant’s re­quests are rea­son­able and that he is le­git­i­mately ex­er­cis­ing his right of ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion held by a pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion as set out in sec­tion 4(1) of the Act,” states the rul­ing.

As part of its sub­mis­sion, NBHS in­di­cated that in the case of a rul­ing that found Ren­nick’s re­quests are not friv­o­lous or vex­a­tious, it would deny ac­cess – which it has – un­der other sec­tions of the Mu­nic­i­pal Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion and Pro­tec­tion of Pri­vacy Act. That in­cludes sec­tions that ex­empt dis­clo­sure based on the con­tents of the in­for­ma­tion such as clientso­lic­i­tor priv­i­lege and third-party tech­ni­cal, com­mer­cial or fi­nan­cial de­tails.

The rul­ing may be re­viewed at https://de­ci­sions.ipc.on.ca/ipc­cipvp/or­ders/en/item/346264/ in­dex.do?r=aaaaaqahb­w8TMZY2NWE


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