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Freedom Convoy: We May Have To Sue The Ontario Gov't To Get Our Unsent FOIA Documents
They are five months late, here's the story.
Our team spent 25 days in Ottawa during the Freedom Convoy and got to see first hand the disparity between what was presented in mainstream media about the event and what was actually happening on the ground.
This, like many other moments in the last few years, can feel frustrating as you have millions of people believing something that simply isn't true. At the same time, moments like this act as a big wake up call for people who decide to venture out of the mainstream narrative and either go see things for themselves or turn on independent media.
I personally heard from many people in Canada who previously trusted mainstream media and did not watch independent media. For these people, the Freedom Convoy made them question mainstream media, and now, they compare narratives with independent media more regularly. Some have even stated they are not sure they will trust mainstream media ever again.
I feel that what happened during the Freedom Convoy will provide a wake up call for years to come. One of the ways I wanted to contribute to that awakening was through Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests. This is where regular citizens or journalists can reach out to governments asking for transparency about decisions they made or discussions they had. You can get access to things governments don't want to reveal publicly but have to if people ask.
FOIA requests have been the backbone of some of the biggest stories in more modern history. They provide the 'proof' that can't easily be denied by corrupt governments.
Witnessing how the Canadian Federal government, led by Justin Trudeau, and how local governments portrayed the story of the Freedom Convoy to Canadians, I was very intrigued to find out what these governments were saying behind the scenes.
I know that they, the government and mainstream media, know they were manipulating the narrative around the Freedom Convoy, and I thought it was a good idea for Ontarian's and Canadians to explore what went on behind the scenes. So, I sent approximately 10 FOIA requests to various branches of governments around specific inquiries.
Today I want to provide an update on one request that is still outstanding, and how the Ontario government is giving me the run around with it.
Avoiding My Request?
In late April 2022 I sent in a specific request I thought would reveal the ways in which the Ontario government was figuring out how to handle the Freedom Convoy in the early days. It included a look into what some higher ranking government employees were discussing about the event at the time. This would likely reveal strategy, perhaps narrative fabrication, and one other detail I'd like to keep quiet until I get my request back.
From here, the government now has 30 days to respond to me.
I got a phone call in late May from a case worker letting me know this would be a ‘bigger’ request and that we’d need to setup a private and secure inbox for the documents to be transferred when they are ready. A private inbox has been requested before, but never had I received a phone call in the previous 15 or so FOIAs I’ve sent. I’ve also received bills the same as what I got for this request, so I’m not sure what was so “big” about this request. Nonetheless, everything seemed to be on track.
About 35 days later, on June 27, 2022, I received a notice of a 60 day extension on my case, just as their time was running out. This has happened before, so it was no big deal. 3 days later, on June 30, 2022, I received a notice of fee estimation, which was about $2000. As per normal course, I had to pay 50% upfront and agree to pay the other 50% once the work was completed. I paid within days and we move on.
The government now had until August 27th, 2022 to provide documents related to my request.
Here is a quick note on Ontario's legislation on FOIA request extensions as this will become important later.
"The legislation allows a time extension where it is unreasonable to complete the request within the 30 day time limit. The legislation is not explicit about the amount of allowable time so any time extension must be reasonable and justifiable."
August 27, 2022 comes along and I was excited to get a notification of my documents as their extension deadline was coming up. But, I didn’t receive any emails or documents.
“I’ll give them a few days” I said to myself, but it’s here and through September 2022 where I forgot about the request as I was busy with other stories and projects.
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By October 2022 I remembered I had let this file slip. I realized the Ontario government is already about 6 weeks late getting me my documents.
I then reached out to my case worker again to find out what happened to my file. I found out someone new had taken over my file. So I contacted the new person and we begin going back and forth so she can get caught up on my file. Why didn't she have all the notes? I had no clue.
I wrote the following to her on Oct. 13th, 2022:
“I’m wondering if there is an update on this. Have not received any updates and we are well past the August 26th extension deadline.”
She replies on Oct. 14, 2022:
“I will have to orient myself to your request and continue to process it. It looks to be quite voluminous and consultations will need to be made. Unfortunately I cannot advise of any time lines for completion, but I will process it.”
- Case Worker
Two weeks go by, still nothing, so I reach out again. Keep in mind they are now late by about 2 months.
“Were you able to gather an update on this? I understand that XX has moved on but I also feel the ministry is responsible for responding to this request in a timely manner, especially given the public importance of this event. The acceptance of this request dates back to June 2022 and I’ve already paid my fees.
Was really hoping to hear some updates.
For tonal clarity as I type this, I don’t mean to be rude or anything, just really want the ball rollin here.”
She then replied two days later asking for clarification on this request.
“My apologies no updates except to say that I am working on it. Although I would like to confirm if you are seeking access to the emails concerning “Top Issues”? These are emails and attached documents about news articles (some news articles would not be about the Freedom Convoy)?
- Case Worker
What? The details she is asking for are no where in my request, so why are they being brought up? Also, clarification was done way back in May and would be in the case notes. Plus, I already paid for this request which means the government was already crystal clear on what they needed to provide. That's what the clarification period is for in the beginning.
I reply again, re-stating my initial request and pointing to the acknowledgement of understanding on their part.
She responds back with screenshots proving she had the list of names I was interested in and what I was looking for. So why were things unclear before? I have no idea.
More time goes by without hearing back. We’re into early December 2022. I again ask for an update from my case worker.
“Any update on this request? Was hoping for an early Christmas present from the FOI department :)”
Yes I’m ridiculous. I asked for a Christmas present from the FOI department. Trying to keep things friendly.
“I am still working on your request (was actually working on it when you sent the email below). I cannot provide a date when I will complete your request. My apologies.“
- Case Worker
What?! OK, so all the guidelines are being broken here. When the government runs out of time they are supposed to provide the requester (me) with a formal notice of extension and the amount of time they are looking to extend for. Not only that, they are providing no details as to why they are even extending. Is this pure negligence, or are they playing hardball on purpose?
Let's go to the legislation again as it explains why I never received another extension notice:
"A decision to extend the time limit must be made within the 30 day limit and the requester must be given notice. Only one time extension can be taken for each request."
I received my one notice of a 60 day extension, it came and went many months ago. And now I've received nothing because the government is only allowed to ask for an extension once.
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We're now about 150 days over their extension deadline.
I’m sitting in limbo waiting on documents that may show how top government employees were communicating, and perhaps strategizing nefariously, when it came to one of the biggest moments in Canadian history. Is it unreasonable to think they want to play hard to get here?
My next move is to file an official complaint that will cost another $25. Think about that, the government makes me pay to submit a request and then pay for their time getting me the documents. Then, when they do a poor job, I have to pay again to complain about it. I wish I got paid to produce bad work or for doing none at all, haha.
The truth is, I'm not sure my 'complaint' will even be taken seriously. I feel I will likely have to do what others have had to do in situations like this; get a lawyer involved. Funny enough, when I spoke to the original case worker in May we talked about the process of getting a lawyer to sue in cases where I felt the government was holding back. A self-fulfilling prophecy?
Beyond a complaint, I have checked in again with my case worker to find out if Santa was able to help with my request since he was around not too long ago. So far nothing.
For now, you’ll have to stay tuned on this request. The government is now 5 months late and your guess is as good as mine as to when we'll get anything.