In a newly released Review Report 040-2019 , posted just today (April 26, 2019), Saskatchewan’s Information and Privacy Commissioner has taken the Northern Village of Pinehouse to task once again. He appears to be frustrated at the Village’s lack of transparency and due process in meeting the requirements of the Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (LA FOIP). This time the issue is a request for information about how the Village Council did not provide formal authorization for its business development corporation Pinehouse Business North (PBN) to dispense with audited financial statements for three fiscal years, 2009-2011, as required by the Northern Municipalities Act.
In his review, the Commissioner found:
- that the Village has not identified any exemptions in Part III of LA FOIP that it can rely on to withhold all or part of the records.
- that the Village has not demonstrated that its search for records was reasonable and adequate for purposes of LA FOIP.
- that the Village has not met its duty to assist pursuant to subsection 5.1(1) of LA FOIP.
He goes on to recommend that the Village provide the requested information to the applicant, seeing as they have no lawful cause to withhold it.
Village administrator had said, “Pinehouse has nothing to hide”
The information requested by the applicant is encapsulated in her letter to Pinehouse village administrator Martine Smith, dated December 11, 2019:
I was interested to read a recent news report in the paNOW newspaper under the heading, “Village of Pinehouse has nothing to hide: CAO” .In particular, the article reports that you insisted that neither the Village nor you has anything to hide and have not been operating in an obstructive fashion. So, that being the case, I would like if you could revisit an FOI request that I made back in 2015. It read,”As Pinehouse Business North is a wholly owned municipal corporation, and as the Village is the sole shareholder, the Village has the authority to dispense with audited financial statements in any fiscal year. This is the reason that the Village administration has indicated as to why PBN financial statements do not exist for 2009-2011. I am requesting copies of Village Council minutes and PBN Board minutes in which motions were passed authorizing the PBN board to dispense with financial statements (audited or unaudited) for 2009, 2010 and 2011.”After great delay, the Village claimed that such records did not exist. But upon review of that claim, Saskatchewan’s Information and Privacy Commissioner found (Report # 039-2016):
- that the Village has not performed a reasonable search for records; and
- that the Village did not respond to the access to information request within the legislated timelines.
Pinehouse Business North is a very important component of the Village’s financial and governance status, so my FOI request is just a relevant today as it was three years ago. I still find it hard to believe that in fact minutes do not exist, either in Village records or in PBN’s records, that show approval of the dispensing with financial statements for a corporation in which millions of dollars of revenue and expenditures were coming in and going out over three fiscal years (2009, 2010 and 2011). It simply does not make sense to anyone with an understanding of business practice.I am therefore asking you now to do a more thorough search for the records in question, as recommended by the Information and Privacy Commissioner in his review report. In the spirit of your statement to the effect that the Village of Pinehouse has nothing to hide, I look forward to the results of that request.
The Village continues to hide and obfuscate information
In the response to her formal FOI request, the applicant received a letter from the Village on January 18 indicating that there were no minutes authorizing Pinehouse Business North to dispense with preparing audited financial statements for the years in question. This despite the fact that the corporation had millions of dollars in revenue in 2009-2011. The lack of accountability to the residents of Pinehouse is stunning and was extensively reported in a Briarpatch magazine article in November 2015.
In the one document the Village of Pinehouse did provide to the applicant, an unaudited financial spreadsheet for Pinehouse Business North for 2011, all details about sources of revenue and expenditures were whited out.
These redactions, the Information Commissioner says, are totally without justification and the full document should be released for public viewing.
The Information Commissioner cannot contain his frustration
In what appears to be great frustration, the Commissioner writes,
This is now the 14th Review Report issued by my office involving the Village between 2013 and 2019. 13 of these reports deal with section 7 responses not being provided, delays in providing [them] or responses being inadequate. In addition, the Village did not cooperate with requests by my office in 11 of these cases. In one report, former Commissioner Gary Dickson Q.C. recommended that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General consider prosecution pursuant to subsection 56(3) of LA FOIP because the Village did not comply with a lawful requirement of the Commissioner (LA-2013-004). The prosecution did not proceed because the Village did what the former Commissioner requested after the issuing of the public report. In Review Report 204-2018, I recommended the Minister of Government Relations direct an inspection or inquiry under sections 396 and 397 of The Municipalities Act (sections 417 and 418 of The Northern Municipalities Act) due to the non-compliance with my office and LA FOIP. The Minister ordered an inspection of the Village on December 7, 2018 and expanded that to an inquiry by Mr. Neil Robertson Q.C. on April 2, 2019.