Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

BC Hydro charging too much for FOI request, says union

The Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE) says BC Hydro is charging too much money to process a freedom of information request.

Jarrah Hodge, a communications representative for COPE filed the request in May. It asked for four months' worth (January to May 2012) of records "which relate to any spillage or release of water from reservoirs behind hydroelectric dams which are owned or operated, in whole or in part, by the British Columbia Hydro and Power."

The cost to collect, retrieve, produce and copy those requested records?

$18,875, according to a response letter from Scott Macdonald, BC Hydro's freedom of information director. That's the equivalent of 562.50 hours at $30 per hour, he noted, plus 8,000 pages of copying at 25 cents per page.

"It seems to us slightly ludicrous to claim that compiling the information would cost that much money -- it seems like Hydro is particularly interested in this information not getting out..." wrote Hodge in an email to The Tyee.

Sean Holman, an award-winning investigative reporter and founding editor of PublicEye, told The Tyee that without knowing the details of the request, it's hard to know whether or not the fee estimate is appropriate.

"If it isn't, it wouldn't be the first time a government agency has provided an estimate that is over and above what is appropriate," said Holman.

Holman added that, "when it comes to these kind of documents, what we are paying for is the amount of work that goes into censoring records."

Specific types of information, like legal advice for example, are exempt from the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and can be redacted from documents.

In Macdonald's response to COPE, he wrote that "we believe that many of the records you have requested may contain information that is subject to one or more of the exceptions to disclosure contained in the Act. Such records would likely be entirely withheld or partially redacted."

It's up to the individual making the request to file an appeal to the The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner if he or she feels a redaction -- or the fee estimate -- is inappropriate.

Hodge told The Tyee that COPE is considering filing an appeal to review the fee estimate, but "at this point, we're not 100 per cent sure."

BC Hydro communications advisor Simi Heer sent an email response to The Tyee noting that the request is "very, very broad."

"It encompasses nearly every document related to the operation of reservoirs in our entire system and the work of dozens of employees over close to a five month period. All information related to all spill or release of water is a broad scope as we spill as a normal course of business at numerous facilities."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

Find more in:

    What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


    • Verify facts, debunk rumours
    • Add context and background
    • Spot typos and logical fallacies
    • Highlight reporting blind spots
    • Ignore trolls
    • Treat all with respect and curiosity
    • Connect with each other

    Do not:

    • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
    • Libel or defame
    • Bully or troll
    • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
    comments powered by Disqus