White Rock, Metro Vancouver want water discussion documents sealed

Public bodies believe ordered release of information will compromise negotiations, confidentiality

In petitions to B.C. Supreme Court, lawyers for the City of White Rock and Metro Vancouver Regional District are asking for more than simply a judicial review of release of material on White Rock’s decision to purchase its water utility from Epcor.

They’re also asking that ‘in-camera’ – or non-public – material be sealed during the judicial-review process.

In White Rock’s petition, the city’s lawyers are going a further step. They’re also asking for an order that submissions to the court from both the petitioner and the respondents – the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) and city resident Ross Buchanan, whose original freedom-of-information request triggered the fight over releasing the documents – be filed in-camera.

The OIPC had ordered White Rock to release the documents to Buchanan by May 29, but White Rock has consistently resisted an FOI release of anything other than redacted versions of some documents, claiming it would compromise ongoing negotiations with Epcor over a final purchase price.

Metro Vancouver’s argument against the OIPC order is that the file includes confidential minutes of its Utilities Committee that White Rock had no right to possess or release.

And while Buchanan has said that he is not interested in having Metro Vancouver documents released as part of his FOI request, Metro’s position is that the possibility of compromising its documents still exists.

After an attempt to have OIPC adjudicator Chelsea Lott reopen her written inquiry into releasing the documents failed on May 26, both White Rock and Metro Vancouver filed petitions for a judicial review.

As a result of the petition, the OIPC order is now stayed for 120 days under provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

A city statement May 29 said that “while council has resolved to release to the public all city records relating to the EPCOR purchase once the final purchase price has been determined, it remains of the view that releasing the information now could be damaging to the city’s financial interests and therefore the interests of its taxpayers.”

Buchanan said he remains concerned that requests for sealing in-camera documents, and having submissions to the court remain non-public, amount to an attempted “gag order” on the entire file.

“When our mayor and council appeal an OIPC order to release unlawfully withheld records from the public, retain outside legal counsel at great expense to the citizens to seek judicial review at the B.C. Supreme Court and then ask that the court proceeding and documents be held in secret and sealed, it really makes me wonder,” he said by email.

“This council is frantically and desperately exhausting every possible avenue it can, no matter what the cost to the public purse, to attempt to continue to withhold, hide and conceal the release of public records by a public body and a public utility on a matter of public interest so essential to us as the water we drink.”

Peace Arch News