A man who was involved in the initial freedom of information requests that eventually ended up in a municipal inquiry into the Northern Village of Pinehouse is “disappointed” with what he perceives as a “lack of rigour” in the final report.
The report from former justice William Vancise’s inquiry into the municipality was released publicly Wednesday.
His report also included that of Justice Neil Robertson, who conducted the municipal investigation into the village.
While Robertson recommended that the possibility of removing the mayor and deputy mayor from their positions, Vancise disagreed.
Vancise was much more sympathetic to the village administration, finding that while they failed to follow provincial legislation such as the Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (LAFOIP) and the Northern Municipalities Act, it was due to ignorance and incompetence, coupled with an overwhelmed administrator, and was not intentional.
The investigation and subsequent inquiry came out of reports of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, who found the village in violation of LAFOIP. That finding came out of a series of access to information complaints put forward by a group that involved D’Arcy Hande.
In 2013 Hande was working on a story for Briarpatch Magazine in Regina about the relationship between the village and northern uranium companies. He filed an access to information request to see details of the two sides’ agreement. Over time, he said working with people in Pinehouse, the group he is a part of began to notice gaps and concerns in governance.
They filed more freedom of information requests. The village, though, didn’t respond in a timely manner. Hande’s group appealed to the commissioner.
Hande finished reading through Vancise’s report Thursday.
“I find it amazing that Vancise, for the most part, more or less dismissed all of Robertson’s concerns and the degree of gravity that Robertson assigned to those concerns,” he told the Herald Thursday.
“It’s like night and day looking at those two reports.”
That concern was addressed by Minister of Government Relations Lori Carr when speaking to The Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
Asked about the differences between the two reports, Carr said Robertson’s initial document was “preliminary, or very high-level.” She said Vancise “carried on with the inquiry as it was meant to be, but this time he got to see the full picture,” including opportunities to review financial audits and interview more people.
“That’s where (Vancise) drew his conclusions from and that’s why I’m confident in the report,” Carr said.
Hande was interviewed for Vancise’s inquiry. In the Vancise report, his group is described as being “frustrated” with the delay in responding to requests and endeavouring the “blitz” the village with several access to information requests sent in quick succession.”
Vancise also wrote that “Mr. Hande’s evidence that he, along with other individuals, engaged in a concerted effort to blitz the village with information requests is very concerning to me, as this amounts to using the … process in a coordinated action to overwhelm a small northern community’s administration. While the use of the access to information provisions … cannot be condoned, the access to information requests did expose some governance deficiencies within the village.” He said the campaign amounted to inappropriate use of a provincial office to further a personal agenda.
Hande disagrees with Vancise’s findings.
“I take exception to this idea that somehow we were being frivolous and vexatious and political in this so-called blitz to get information out of the Village of Pinehouse,” he said.
“The bulk of the issues that were being examined here both by Robertson and by Vancise came out of our FOI request to the village. We knew there were problems.”
Hande said the fact that issues of misgovernance identified in the report were in his groups FOI means those requests can’t be categorized as frivolous or vexatious.
“We did identify issues. We had people from Pinehouse working with us and our group.”
Hande said he got the impression that Vancise didn’t agree with their political positions. He felt the same way during the inquiry when the lawyer for the village followed that same line of questioning, he said.
“I guess Mr. Vancise was convinced by them, but none of these issues would have come to light if we hadn’t been doing this work. “
Hande said he’s glad the issues are being addressed. He’s also pleased to see that Vancise recommended a forensic audit of the 2013-2017 time period in his report.
Still, he’s not optimistic there will be any changes.
“That’s totally up to the village administration in Pinehouse. I guess I would say I’m skeptical,” he said.
Hande also said that there are still unanswered questions his group has. He disagreed with the finding that the freedom of information process had improved.
“I‘m being frivolous and vexatious, I guess,” he joked, “but we’ve actually got other freedom of information requests in the hopper.”
Those requests, he said, have to do in part with why the village was allowed to continue on the way it was for so long without government intervention.
“How was it that this … was allowed to happen?” he asked.
He also cited a case of a man from Pinehouse who requested council meetings and financial statements for 2018. When the village didn’t respond, he filed a freedom of information request. It took two-to-three months, and then he finally got the minutes. He still doesn’t have the financial statements, Hande alleged.
“Things are not that much better,” he alleged. He added that he’s not the only one involved with this, nor is he the lead. He describes himself more as a support person. There are a bunch from Pinehouse itself, he pointed out.
Still, in the end, he’s hopeful the recommendations will be enacted.
“(Vancise) does make some good recommendations, and I hope the ministry will follow through with them. “
Neither the mayor nor the administrator from the Northern Village of Pinehouse were available for comment.