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BC Ferries' Hahn offered FOI requester free visit to head office

When researcher Mark Weiler made freedom of information requests to British Columbia Ferry Services Inc., he expected to receive records. Instead he got a personal email from president and CEO David Hahn.

Weiler said he found the response strange, considering the identities of individual FOI requesters are supposed to be kept confidential from executives in the public body they're targeting. “In my view there's no basis for David Hahn the executive to know who I am or why I'm ordering it,” he said.

B.C. Ferries became subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act on Oct. 1. Weiler submitted three requests, each related to B.C. Ferries compliance with the act and use of it.

Hahn sent him the following message on Oct. 28:

I know we have received several FOI requests from yourself .I suspect and may be wrong that several students may also be submitting requests as well.

What I am recommending, if my guess is correct, is that we could host you and your students at our head office at a time you think appropriate in their project

We would be willing to provide round trip ferry transportation and refreshments at our office and answer any questions you or the students may have. Additionally, we could walk everyone thru our security and operations centre.

If I am wrong in my guess please accept my apologies. If correct and you would like to take us up on our offer please let me know.

Weiler said he is not in fact teaching and has no students. He's contacted the office of the information and privacy commissioner about making a complaint about his identity being shared with Hahn, but was told to pursue the matter with B.C. Ferries first, he said.

“It's definitely an invasion of Mark Weiler's privacy,” said Darrel Evans, executive director of the B.C. advocacy group Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. “This is certainly unheard of. I've just never heard of anything like this ever.

“I would certainly say it's improper to be giving any kind of information to David Hahn about an FOI requester,” he said.

It's interesting to watch how an organization with a private sector culture responds to being placed under FOI scrutiny, Evans said. “I think David Hahn is going to jump off a bridge or something. They're just not psychologically ready for the kind of transparency that's required of a government body.”

An email message to two B.C. Ferries spokespeople from The Tyee received no response.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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