The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has ordered the City of New Westminster to release documents regarding the Columbia Theatre.
The Raymond Burr Performing Arts Society requested records from the city regarding assets located in the theatre at 530 Columbia St. The city had bought the Columbia Theatre in 2000 (when it was known as the Burr Theatre) and leased it to the society, ultimately selling the historic theatre in 2010.
Elizabeth Barker, an adjudicator with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, stated that the city withheld two reports that were prepared for council, and withheld portions of the minutes from two council meetings under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
"The records relate to communications between the city and the society regarding assets located in a formerly city-owned theatre," said a July 4 decision from the commissioner's office. "In response to the request, the city released a number of records but withheld two reports in their entirety and severed information from the minutes of two council meetings."
The report states that the city relied on components of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, on the grounds that disclosure of the withheld information would reveal the substance of city council deliberations during meetings held in-camera. When mediation didn't resolve the matter, the society asked the Office of the Information and Privacy Commission to review the city's decision.
The Raymond Burr Performing Arts society managed and oper-ated the Burr Theatre until March 2006, when its lease expired and wasn't renewed.
"The circumstances surrounding the end of the lease led to a dispute between the parties over assets such as the stage, seats, cables, and curtains, which were left in the theatre," states the report. "The society requested information about the assets, and the city responded by disclosing some records in their entirety and releasing others with portions of the records withheld."
The adjudicator noted that the City of New Westminster disclosed further information to the society during mediation. The request to the adjudicator related to staff reports from May 2006 and August 2010, as well as minutes of meetings from council agendas covering those two time periods.
Barker concluded that the city is able to withhold the portions of the May 2006 and August 2010 minutes that have not yet been disclosed, but is not authorized to withhold the May 2006 report. She also ordered the city to give the society a copy of the August 2010 report (with the exception of a specific quotation from the 2006 minutes that is contained in the report).
The order stated that the documents must be delivered to the society within 30 days, which was Aug. 16.
Jacqueline Killawee, the City of New Westminster's records and information administrator, said the city has completely complied with the adjudicator's decision and released the required documents. Killawee said it's "very rare" for decisions to have to go to the adjudicator.
"We had 81 FOIs last year," she said. "Of those, two of them went to the commissioner."
Killawee said a second issue was resolved when documents being sought were allowed to be released after a time-sensitive period had passed. She said a third request to the Information and Privacy Commissioner was dealt with by an intake officer, who explained that the city wasn't required to release the documents being sought.
Killawee said the city receives Freedom of Information requests on a wide range of issues.
"The most common is car accidents, wanting the first responders' reports for insurance," she said. "That is the most common we get."
Killawee said the city also receives a request for documents monthly related to oil tanks on properties in the city, which is done as part of property transactions.
The two part-time staff tasked with dealing with Freedom of Information requests deal with a wide range of requests, ranging from small neighbourhood issues to issues covered in local newspapers, Killawee said.