Good morning all, this session's about to get underway in about 5 minutes.
Dean Beeby has started us off. He files between 500 to 1,000 requests a year. Started filing since the various legislatures created FOI laws. Nova Scotia, Ontario and the federal legislation
Today is focused on the federal law -- it's the "best"... $5 a pop and many of the requests cost only that. Though poorly administered, but better administered than in provinces.
Beeby: The delays are endemic. Agency/department has 30 days to respond. In 1983, that was intended to mean receiving records in 30 days.
Beeby: 30-day period gives the department time to request an extension.
Beeby: Typical federal response time is 90 days, typically because you're a journalist. Forms ask you to describe category of person submitting. Journalist is an option as is to decline. But departments figure out your a journalist.
Beeby: As a journalist your requests will be vetted, some times up to the minister's office. It causes weeks of delays, if not months. That's not right, they're not allowed to do so, but it happens.
Beeby: That's not my impression, it was demonstrated by Alaisdair Roberts and others who've tracked requests.
Beeby: Delays tend to be three weeks or so for journalists.
Q: Who gets the fastest response? Beeby: Businesses
Beeby: 60K plus requests filed, most from business. Journalists are 15% or so of the total number. But that's misleading because many are bulk filers. Myself, David McKie, Jim Bronskill -- we file a lot.
Beeby: This is a tool journalists don't use well or often.
Beeby: Businesses are in the FOI game not to embarrass government, but to give them information and potentially a competitive advantage.
Beeby: Journalists using the act to hold government to account, embarrass them, will get that delay.
Beeby: Onto the seven best habits for FOI filing.
Beeby: No. 1 - Make filing a regular habit. Beeby's hit rate is about 1;
erm, 1:10. Odds have been getting worse as time goes on
Beeby: As governments began to realize there was no sanction for bad behaviour, they started using tricks to withhold, delay and deny.
Beeby: A department has no consequence for issuing a six-month delay.
Beeby: You will see that 10:1 ratio yourself. The worst thing is file one request, wait three months and then be disappointed.
Beeby: It'll turn you off the whole process and you'll say it doesn't work.
Beeby: I file about four a day. I usually do it first thing in the morning.
Beeby: You can use a paper form posted on the web, mail it in with $5 cheque. Every request costs $5. Or you can file electronically.
Beeby: That 30-day clock starts as soon as you submit online. Only available for 30 department currently.
Beeby: Beauty of that is it's all electronic. Paid by credit card. It's not an unreasonable time commitment. It's not that hard to do this first thing in the morning and get it out of the way in 10 minutes.
Beeby: That tipsheet has that URL as well for filing electonically
Beeby: Even if you're not obsessive like me, do one a day. Keep doing it and do it regularly. If you keep doing that, in about 90 days, your response will come back to you.
Beeby: In 90 days' time you've filled the pipeline and you'll be getting documents on your desk, in your email, on CDs, etc.
Beeby: That's a function of being diligent, tenacious and keeping up that habit. Worst thing to do is place all your bets on one request.
Beeby: At $5 a pop, it's not expensive. Even small newsrooms can afford that fee.
And as someone who works in a small newsroom, Beeby's right. We have $5 for that.
Beeby: Tip No. 2 -- Mine open government sources. Example? MERX.
Beeby: It's a federal/provincial/municipal portal where tenders and requests for proposals are posted.
Beeby: For example, research study on mafia crime in Montreal, etc. Or a tender for something the Department of National Defence needs. Put the due date on your calendar. On the day it was to be submitted, then FOI it.
Beeby: Other data includes every department's plans and priorities, filed every spring. You can mine that to fuel further FOI requests.
Beeby: There are lots of open-government sources that are rich with opportunities to file requests.
Beeby: Tip No. 3 -- Cull news websites, broadcasts, newspapers, etc. for hidden requests.
Beeby: Half my requests come from reading, watching and listening to the news in the morning,
Beeby: You're reading stuff with the idea that when a minister makes a statement, he's been informed by his staff members. That means paper for minister's briefing. Or a House of Commons exchange...
Beeby: House cards, created for ministers to respond to questions or debate, are FOI-able.