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City takes hard line in Sudbury.com's FOI appeal

Refuses to cooperate with Information and Privacy Commission, citing solicitor-client privilege
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Sudbury.com's FOI request sought details on how a lawsuit was settled involving a former staffer in the mayor's office who sued the city after she was fired in 2014, claiming harassment. (File)

Greater Sudbury is refusing to co-operate with the Information and Privacy Commission as it processes Sudbury.com's appeal of a Freedom of Information Request denial.

The FOI request sought details on how a lawsuit was settled involving a former staffer in the mayor's office who sued the city after she was fired in 2014, claiming harassment.

The case centres on Alicia Lachance, who alleges she was harassed by Mayor Brian Bigger's chief of staff, Melissa Zanette, while Lachance was a public relations assistant after Bigger's election victory in October 2014.

Lachance sought $150,000 for being wrongfully dismissed, another $150,000 in aggravated and punitive damages, her legal costs and any other award “the court deems just.”

Sudbury.com filed the request after the case was settled in May and the city refused a formal request to provide details, such as the money involved in the settlement and whether anyone admitted to wrongdoing.

The city refused the FOI request June 1, and Sudbury.com launched an appeal a short time after. The refusal was based on section 14 (1) of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

That section prohibits the release of “personal information to any person other than the individual to whom the information relates.”

However, section 14 (2a) of the Act also requires the consideration of the “relevant circumstances” around the request, including whether “the disclosure is desirable for the purpose of subjecting the activities of the institution to public scrutiny.”

In our appeal, Sudbury.com argued the public has a right to know the details of the settlement, because of the possibility that the actions of a high-ranking member of the mayor's office was not only inappropriate, but cost taxpayers money to settle the case. If the denial is upheld, it would mean city could conceal bad behaviour by staff  -- and the subsequent financial damages awarded in lawsuits -- by citing privacy laws.

On Monday, an official with the Information and Privacy Commission said the city is also refusing to give them access to the information, citing solicitor-client privilege. The commission was hoping to review the information to determine whether the appeal had merit, a customary part of the appeals process aimed at shortening the process. 

With the city's current stance, the IPC told sudbury.com it's unlikely the appeal will be resolved before the Oct. 22 municipal election.



Darren MacDonald

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