UPEI introduces new access to information policy

Published on March 20, 2017

UPEI logo

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - A new UPEI policy could make accessing information from the university easier.

It also falls short of including the university in P.E.I.’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection (FOIPP) Act, which would put legal requirements on what records the school has to release.

A spokeswoman for UPEI said Friday there was no one available for an interview on the matter.

In a letter sent to The Guardian Thursday, Jackie Podger, UPEI’s vice-president of administration and finance, said the new policy is in line with the university’s values of accountability and integrity.

“Our enhanced openness and transparency is very much in keeping with the principles and practices that our provincial government currently follows,” she said.

RELATED: Municipalities, post-secondary under Freedom Of Information: Commissioner

Depending on how you read it you can say this is an advance or you could say it’s a mirage. Fred Vallance-Jones

Podger said after meeting with the province, the university wanted to review its processes and look at adopting the “principles and practices of FOIPP” to ensure openness and transparency as a publicly funded institution.

UPEI has hired lawyer Patti Wheatley as the school’s new chief access to information and privacy officer.

Fred Vallance-Jones, a journalism instructor at the University of King’s College who performs access to information audits for Newspapers Canada, read the new policy. He said any formalized policy that gives the public some degree of a right to information it has paid for to a large degree is a good thing.

“Depending on how you read it you can say this is an advance or you could say it’s a mirage,” he said.

Vallance-Jones said the success of public disclosure will depend on how committed the university is to access and public transparency.

The way the UPEI policy is written, the university is in a position to arbitrarily decide what to release, he said.

The vice-president of administration and finance has the final say on appeals, which Vallance-Jones said is a departure from what people have come to expect with some kind of independent review of decisions.

“That gives very little comfort to me that this will be interpreted in any other way than the university seeing what’s in its best interest,” Vallance-Jones said.
Making a request will cost $25 with the university charging a further $40 per hour to locate and retrieve a record.

Any requests requiring less than an hour to complete will have the $40 fee waived.

Other costs may also apply.

The P.E.I. government charges $5 for an application and a further $10 per half hour to locate and prepare a record with the first two hours free.

Vallance-Jones said a lot of people who might be interested in what’s happening at the university could be students who live on tight budgets, but they might think twice about paying the application fee.

The UPEI fees are among some of the highest in the country, Vallance-Jones said, and he added some governments in Canada have stopped charging them.

“I would be concerned about the cost of this.”

Vallance-Jones said the policy is better than nothing, but a far cry from inclusion in the provincial FOIPP Act.

“I’m leaning more to the mirage end of this,” he said.

The new policy goes into effect May 1.