Op-ed: The Access and Privacy office isn't fooling anybody

The slew of Freedom of Information requests that hit UBC’s Access and Privacy office was the most seen in five years, according to Paul Hancock, Legal Counsel as well as Information and Privacy for the Office of University Counsel.

It pains a journalist to say this when getting information is our job, but it was expected and even somewhat understandable that more than the allotted 30 business days would be needed for the three staff members of the office to return all 47 requests.  

After all, there are only three people to do it. While it is UBC’s fault for not hiring an adequate number to get their job on time, 47 FOI requests is a heavy task considering they’re trying to navigate the tricky landscape of “what do I have to give away and what don’t I?” because of the law and confidentiality agreements. 

So they asked for an extension and no one was surprised. But that extension was supposed to last until November 6 for The Ubyssey and November 5 for the couple of news outlets that beat us to the punch.

We were on guard all day, waiting for the drop to hit. Then at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, November 5, we got one letter. Here’s what it said:

“The records contain a substantial amount of personal information of Dr. Gupta and other third parties. We have reason to believe that this information might be excepted from disclosure under section 22 of the Act (disclosure harmful to personal privacy). The Act sets out a consultation process that we must follow in these circumstances.”

In other words: scratch what we told you before, we’re going to take until December 18 to reach out to those third parties and then tell you that we don’t actually have to give you anything. 

Let’s make one thing clear – that letter isn’t fooling anybody. 

Access and Privacy waited until nearly the end of the workday of the last possible day they had to respond to our requests — with a new deadline. A deadline that happens to be right before the biggest holiday of the year when you can bet journalists will have a hell of a time tracking down the people who could offer any kind of comment.

This is not a mistake. This was not a last-ditch option. They dropped that letter at a time that was calculated and purposeful. They have been dealing with these requests since August — I have a difficult time believing that, on the week of November 5, they only then realized that reaching out to the third parties would be the best thing to do. What have they been doing for the last four months if not talking to those involved?

But we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, this is the same institution that gave us the news about GuptaGate late on a Friday afternoon.

This is just the final nail in the information coffin.