So far, I’ve almost exclusively used the Federal Access to Information Act to get information. I’ve requested info from Industry Canada, the RCMP, CSIS, the Department of National Defence with mixed results. However, I’ve only done an FOI once on the Provincial Government (regarding PRIME) and that turned out to be a wild goose chase, and I tried to request files from the VPD relating to their investigation of my activities during the Olympics as part of the V2010ISU.
When I heard about GAMMA, I finally decided to request information about the VPD’s harassment of the 12th and Clark Anarchist Collective. The RCMP in the past has looked for information regarding the 12th and Clark collective, and people have told me that the city has files on the collective, calling it the “12th and Clark Anarchist Club”. I’ve visited 12th and Clark a few times while it was still active as well.
So, after I sent in the FOI request asking about the 12th and Clark Collective and other Anarchist activity in Vancouver over the last three years, it surprised me that the VPD called me on an unlisted number asking for my Driver’s Licence. Since this was the first time I was requesting general information from the VPD, I figured that this was part of the procedure. However, given the fact that cops are known to lie, I wondered if they were going to use this to gather more intelligence about my activities.
Given the fact that David Eby has worked with organizations who have in the past used FOI to get information out of the VPD (PIVOT Legal Society and the BC Civil Liberties Assocation), I figured that I’d ask him on Twitter whether he has seen this before. He told me that I should call the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, which I did. I was then directed to their supervisor, Darren Herwitz, who said that a Driver’s Licence isn’t required for a non-personal request. If you’re doing a straight-up Access to Information requiest, this shouldn’t be required, so you should fax the information. They gave me the name of the supervisor at VPD, and I wrote them a letter:
Dear Mr. Herwitz On July 20, 2011 at around 11:00 AM I was contacted by a woman who was from the Vancouver Police Department who was processing my recent Freedom of Information request regarding the Organized Criminal Intelligence Unit's investigation of Anarchist activites in the Vancouver area. They stated that I was required to fax a copy of my Drivers Licence to the VPD Once I did that, I consulted with David Eby and asked if his organization had also had to do this for non-personal requests. He recommended that I call the Office of the Information and Privacy Commisioner of BC, which I did. They also indicated that they have not heard of this practice either, and advised that I contact you, which is why I am writing you today. I would like to know the reason that the Vancouver Police Department requires the submission of a person's identification for the request of non-personal records. Your website currently only indicates that this practice is for personal records, and I would like to know what the policy is and if the information sent in to the Vancouver Police Department is shared with other departments within the VPD. If you could contact me either by mail, or by e-mailing me at REDACTED</strong>, that would be greatly appreciated. Thank You Joe Bowser</blockquote> I got the following response from the Mr. Herwitz:Dear Sir: I write further to your fax of July 22, 2011 wherein you requested the reason that the Vancouver Police Department required your identification to process your freedom of information request for non-personal information. In short, we do not require ID in order to process Access requests for non-personal information. The request for your ID was made in error and I apologize. We have addressed this issue with our staff member. In this instance, you were contacted by a staff member who is very new to her position. We had asked her to contact a requestor for ID related to a request for their own information and she mistakenly also contacted yourself. We have shredded your ID and did not retain any copies. The information contained in your ID was not disclosed outside of this Unit. Information collected in processing your FOI request or any FOI request is not entered into the Police PRIME database. Your personal information collected from you as part of your FOI request (i.e., your address information should you wish to have records mailed to you) would not, per policy, be shared with other sections of this Department. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Sincerely, Darrin Herwitz</blockquote> There you have it. The VPD's policy stated here is that they do not require ID for non-personal records. This is important, since you should only have to give your identity for the purpose of getting your own records. I've sent dozens of requests to the RCMP without having to send photocopies of my passport. Now, you can choose to believe it or not, but I don't believe that I have grounds to pursue this any further. As for the request, I hope to see it in late August, when the 30 days become due.