friends of dufferin grove park
Buy A City Secret

posted February 15, 2005
This program is currently inactive.


posted December 10, 2004

An unusual present for someone -- a Freedom of Information appeal about the city's secrecy.

List of requests

For a list of the secrets we've been trying to pry from the city (about Playground Removal, City Consultants, and Park Budgets), see our Access to Information Requests, 2004 page.

Here's a gift for the person on your list who has everything. Give us some money to fund a specific information request to the city under the Access To Infomation legislation.

Our search for the reasons why so many parks playgrounds were torn out -and replaced with equipment that was often much inferior - has been very frustrating. So have our other fact-finding efforts: for instance, trying to persuade the city to publish a yearly list of consultants' contracts - amount, company, and what the contract was for. Why such a list? An example: not only did city council recently approve a consulting contract for $800,000 to do a "state-of-good-repair" inventory of Parks and Recreation facilities - at the same time as there's very little money to actually fix things -- but only three years earlier, they had hired a different consulting company to do an inventory of the same buildings for almost $400,000.

When there is only a finite amount of money to do good things - as there is for most of us, and it's true for tax money too - it's important to make sure it's spent well! It's time for some "transparency."

The Friends of Dufferin Grove Park have a research arm called CELOS: CEntre for LOcal research into public Space. For the past 6 months, this group has been trying to find out how money gets spent. Parks and Recreation, and the Policy and Planning section that has control of the capital funds for building new facilities and making improvements in parks, refused to answer most of CELOS' "transparency" questions directly, so we had to go through the city's freedom of information office. But even that step often got either a very slow response (much slower than the information law's 30 days), or no response at all. Finally, CELOS sent a letter to the province's Information and Privacy Commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, asking to meet with her to discuss what seemed a pretty big problem of non-compliance with the freedom of information laws by the city.

Dr. Cavoukian's assistant wrote us back, saying that the Commissioner was already working on the problem (she had cited the City of Toronto as being too slow in her last annual report). The assistant commissioner also said we'd have to file a separate appeal for each request that the city had not answered within 30 days. That comes with a fee: $25 per appeal.

Our first appeal was registered on Nov.17. (We had asked the city how many lawsuits and settlements they had to pay since amalgamation, for injuries in city-owned public space. Total previous lawsuits against the city for playground injuries in the past fifty years were: one, in 1971). The provincial commissioner ordered the city to respond to our inquiry by Dec.1. But they didn't comply with that order either. So the city has now received a follow-up order to reply by Dec.8. We'll see where the province goes next.

The next appeals we have to make concern:

  1. the cost of playground insurance,
  2. the amount the city spends on hiring consultants for parks and recreation projects, who gets hired, and to do what
  3. the amount spent for administration costs of park-related projects (the reply we got from the city was a photocopy of a computer screen with illegible numbers on it)
  4. the accounting of how $4.8 million designated playground funds were spent, to repair playground structures to conform to manufacturer-generated safety standards. (See the item about playground safety, in the newsletter.) It may be that no accounting for this $4.8 million exists at all (!), but then we need to know that.

The park friends don't have that much money to spend outside of the park, on all these freedom of information appeals. Want to give the park a present? Sponsor a Freedom of Information appeal about the city's secrecy.

Pick your topic from our list. It's a shame that it had to come to this. But in case you have someone on your gift list who has everything, buy them a Freedom of Information appeal, for $25. It's a highly original present, and it's a gift that keeps on giving - sooner or later, if we can afford to buy enough appeals, the city will begin to answer the citizens' questions directly. (The gift appeal comes with a gilt card featuring one of Jane LowBeer's original park illustrations, and as we get each answer, the sponsors get a loaf of fresh park bread and a framed record of the answer put up on the rink house wall.) For more information, e-mail