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City of Vancouver doesn’t think Airbnb’s influence on the City Hall is a matter of public interest

Would attempts by a multi-billion dollar corporation to influence city administration be considered a matter of public interest?

City of Vancouver does not think so.

On November 3, 2017, I sent the following freedom of information request to the Freedom of Information office of the City of Vancouver by email:

Copies of all documents, including emails, memos, briefing notes, powerpoint presentations, manuals, and Q&As containing the words “AIRBNB” or “ALEX DAGG” or “SHORT TERM RENTAL” or “PUBLIC HEARING” for the time period Sep 1, 2017 to Oct 30, 2017.

Following correspondence from the FOI office, on November 10, 2017, the FOI request was modified as follows:

Copies of all documents including emails, memos, briefing notes, power point presentations, manuals, and Q&A’s containing the words “AIRBNB” or “ALEX DAGG” or “SHORT TERM RENTAL” or “PUBLIC HEARING” from September 1, 2017 to October 30, 2017 to or from Mayor Robertson, Kaye Krishna, and Janice MacKenzie.

On November 23, 2017, the FOI office assessed a fee of $690 to fulfill the request.

On November 30, 2017, I requested a fee waiver on the grounds that the information sought was a matter of public interest and public safety, as per Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, ss. 75(1), 75(5)(b) and BC Housing (Re), 2014 BCIPC 45:

I wish request a fee waiver on the grounds of public interest .

Has the subject matter been a matter of recent public debate?
Yes. The City of Vancouver’s inaction on the Airbnb file, and the new bylaws, have been widely publicized in the media and debated in forums.

Does the subject of the records relate directly to the environment, public health or safety?
Yes. The public may be at risk of various property crimes and fraud associated with Airbnb.

Would dissemination of the information yield a public benefit by
– disclosing an environmental, public health or safety concern
– contributing meaningfully to the development or understanding of an important environmental, health, or safety issue, or
– assisting public understanding of an important policy, law, program, or service?

Yes. Short term rentals are a public safety concern. Politicians being influenced by large corporations is a public safety concern. Releasing the information requested will contribute contributing meaningfully to the development or understanding of the issue. Given the allegations of City officials’ involvement with Airbnb, it would assist public understanding of an important policy, law, program, or service.

Do the records show how the public body is allocating financial or other resources?
Yes.

Is your primary purpose to disseminate information in a way that could reasonably be expected to benefit the public, or to serve a private interest?
My objective of obtaining this information is to release it on my blog.

Are you able to disseminate the information to the public?
I will be releasing the information I receive on my blog at (https://rezel.ca). I have significant online presence and I’m able to use that to disseminate the information.

On December 1, 2017, the FOI office denied my fee waiver request without any explanation simply stating

Rohana, thank you for your feedback below. I am afraid we are unable to waive the fee based on public interest or public safety. I am going to suggest that you narrow your request in order to avoid a fee.

Today, I wrote to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia asking a for a review of the fee request denial.

[Photo Credit: Paul Krueger]