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Calgary, considering FOIP costs, looks to imitate Alberta's 'very controversial' data dumps

Calgary will look at ways of imitating the Alberta government's "very controversial" approach of making the results of all freedom-of-information (FOIP) requests immediately public, after one councillor suggested it as a way to cut down on the frequency of such requests from journalists by undermining the exclusivity of their stories.

Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart's suggestion to follow the province's lead came Monday during a council discussion on the costs of administering the city's FOIP program which, as Metro reported last week, amounted to more than $320,000 for the last six months of 2014.

"I raise this because … a lot of the inquiries are generated by the media," Colley-Urquhart said. "And they want an exclusive on the story but the minute that it's going to be simultaneously released and become public information..."

"...They lose their scoop," Nenshi said, finishing her sentence.

"Yeah," Colley-Urquhart continued. "And there's a decrease in the number of these things. So I just want to know if this is possible and what the merits of this would be."

Nenshi said he was "of two minds" on the idea.

"The provincial government has done this – they do a 'data dump' on Friday afternoons now of everything that was FOIPed," the mayor said. "This was a very controversial move because it felt like a move toward more openness and transparency but many argue that it's actually a move to less openness."

Sean Holman, a journalism professor at Mount Royal University, previously told Metro the routine “dumping” of documents stemming from FOIP requests that news organizations often spend extensive amounts of time and money crafting would ruin the incentive of exclusivity that drives many of those requests to be filed in the first place.

“Reporters compete with one another to get scoops – that’s the way it works and that’s a big part of the accountability mechanism in society,” he said.

“It would be equivalent to a drug company spending millions of dollars and many years researching a pharmaceutical product, only to have the government decide that they have no exclusive right whatsoever to that research and to be able to capitalize on it.”

Colley-Urquhart, however, said the move could be helpful to people who are "genuinely interested in the public seeing the information that's available, without various spins being put on the information," and that the city could take its own approach to the method, not necessarily doing exactly what the province does.

"There are ways of releasing that information rather than just a data dump at 5 o'clock on a Friday afternoon," she said.

"I would just like to see what our options are."

Colley-Urquhart's motion to have city staff prepare a report on those options passed by 14-1 margin, with Coun. Druh Farrell opposed.

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