Paige Desmond, Record staff
Thu May 23 2013 23:41:00
WATERLOO — The City of Waterloo chose to restrict access to thousands of pages of public documents when it revamped its website in January — and Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner is calling the move “inadequate and unacceptable.”
Six years of council and committee meeting minutes, agendas and other city reports are now only available upon request.
Officials initially said they were forced to make the change by provincial accessibility legislation, but later said that wasn’t the case.
“It was just such a large amount of (documents) that we decided not to include them on the website,” said Megan Harris, director of communications.
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act aims to make Ontario accessible by 2025 and requires some organizations to make their websites and content accessible.
All city website content from Jan. 1, 2012 forward must meet specific accessibility guidelines but historical information does not need to comply.
Waterloo removed the documents prior to 2012, anyway.
“I find the city’s current solution to be inadequate and unacceptable,” said Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian. “The documents should never have been removed from the website without an appropriate online accessibility plan in place.
“I strongly encourage city staff to repost the data at the earliest possible opportunity in a format that is accessible to all.”
Residents must now request what they want from the city clerk’s office.
If a citizen, for example, wanted to use the website search function and read everything available on a particular development project, a traffic project, see how councillors have voted on certain issues or any other historical topic before 2012, they would not be able to do so.
Coun. Angela Vieth was part of a steering committee that guided the new website’s development.
“The province is requiring that all documents on websites need to be AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) compliant,” said Vieth via email. “It would take forever to convert all documents ever produced by the city to AODA standard.”
Chief administrative officer Tim Anderson said the city chose a point in time of where to stop archiving.
“It wasn’t meant to do anything in terms of not providing information to the public,” he said. “If there’s public demand for access to the information I think that is an administrative decision that we can reconsider.”
The cities of Cambridge and Kitchener, and the Region of Waterloo all provide archived reports, agendas and minutes on their websites — dating back as far as 2003 in some cases.