No show on CFAX

This week the CCN was invited by Mathew Hylan of CFAX to speak on air with Mark Brennae, on his talkback radio show. We declined. This was our response:

February 26, 2019

Dear Mat,
Thank you for your inquiries yesterday and today. The CCN mail feed is monitored by volunteers and replies are often delayed.
The Concerned Citizens Network (CCN) of Oak Bay is an informal group of neighbours attempting to provide a platform to discuss the many issues around the OBUC housing project.
First of all: we are NOT against affordable housing, this is a land use debate. The proposed project is too big and too dense for this neighbourhood. This 4 storey building, towering over adjoining single family houses, will invade the privacy of the neighbours. The underground car parking will require blasting, possibly damaging adjoining properties. It may even damage the existing church. The Threshold House, which provides services to vulnerable youth, will be demolished and the already busy residential Granite Street will become busier.
We would like any development that fits the character of the neighbourhood and is in accordance with the housing strategy and Official Community Plan for Oak Bay.
As to your comments today, it is unlikely we will need to rebut anything Mayor Murdoch says. He is part of the process and will work with his strong team of councillors to make a fair decision.
We want to engage with the OBUC-Development Team to make this a win-win project for everyone. However, the OBUC-DT’s campaign to vilify their opponents as a vocal, reactionary few has incited intimidation tactics against the neighbours and their properties. Some have had bogus signs, smeared with derisive slogans, planted on their lawns. Existing protest signs are routinely vandalized. A few of our members have been shouted at and verbally abused in public, by complete strangers. Yesterday, as a consequence of the considerable hate mail addressed to our website and twitter account, the CCN twitter account was closed.
All of this merely because we disagree with some aspects of the OBUC housing project and seek to have our voices heard in a lawful manner in a democratic society.
As the CCN neighbours are interested in dispassionate discussion on the various aspects of the housing project, we believe the talkback format has the potential to create a hostile situation for anyone from our group.
Unlike the OBUC-Development Team, we have no paid professionals to deliver our message.
Consequently, we must respectfully decline your kind offer to participate on your program at this time.
Our website provides further significant details of our concerns about this project. 
Finally, because this project is under review by the District of Oak Bay, we are in limbo as we wait to see what recommendations the planning department will make to the mayor and councillors. We may re-consider your request once we know what has been recommended to the Council.
Concerned Citizens Network of Oak Bay


Postscript: A few of our members listened to Cheryl Thomas from the OBUC-Development Team speak on this show. Apparently, the host didn’t have the facts at hand when she was speaking.

At least twice he asked her if this project started August, 2018. Both times she said yes. It a sense that is correct. That is the month the application was submitted to the District of Oak Bay. She didn’t feel it necessary to mention an application for $500,000 was submitted to BC Housing in March 2017, which included a proposal for a 6 storey building in that tiny space. Nor did she mention that none of those plans were shared with the community until months later, after a couple of secret meetings with then Mayor Nils Jensen and at least two councilors.

“We went to the public with nothing designed,” she said.
Excuse me? The OBUC-DT didn’t advise the community that anything was happening until July 2017 - four months AFTER they’d presented an in-depth proposal to BC Housing, including a building plan. Had Ms Thomas truly forgotten that sequence of events? Or was her memory particularly selective that day?

Ms Thomas also said the whole project was being done entirely with the church’s money. Then she quickly clarified that by saying BC Housing would providing the building loans at preferential rate. That’s not church money any way you look at it. Those are taxpayers’ funds.

FOI Requests - Results May Vary T-C Feb 16, 2019

You can read the original article here. The District of Oak Bay takes months to reply to FOI requests, as does BC Housing. Is it time they lifted they complied with the spirit of the law?


With the campaign for open government focused on vows to peel the curtain back at the legislature, it would be easy to miss the small victory celebrated by environmentalists in Parksville last week.
There was a fuss in the mid-Island community over access to an environmental assessment filed by the developer of land by the French Creek estuary.
A residents group, worried about the impact on a salmon-bearing creek, wanted the Regional District of Nanaimo to give them a copy of the assessment. No, they were told, professional reports submitted as part of an application could not be copied without the permission of the applicant. The documents could be viewed at the regional district office, but that’s it.
Backed by Emilie Benoit, of UVic’s Environmental Law Centre, the residents pushed back. How are scientific and legal experts, many of them in far-flung locations, supposed to evaluate a single document that may only be seen in a Nanaimo office during business hours? They argued that the province’s freedom-of-information law requires the immediate disclosure of such info.
The regional district relented. The RDN’s general manager of strategic and community development, Geoff Garbutt, readily acknowledges the initial decision was wrong. When the mistake was pointed out, they fixed it. The regional district takes pride in being open to the public, he says.
Ah, but that’s not always the case elsewhere. In fact, the UVic centre’s legal director, Calvin Sandborn, finds it frustrating to keep Groundhog Day-ing this story all over B.C., going over the same territory time and again.
Too often, he says, government bodies are reluctant to make readily available information that should be public. It frequently takes a drawn-out freedom-of-information application to extract environmental reports that people like Sandborn argue should be posted online as a matter of routine. Too often, agencies refuse to release third-party reports filed with government, treating them as private property, none of your business.
At the heart of the matter is a section of B.C. law that says government is supposed to proactively release — without requiring an official FOI request — information that is in the public interest. The problem, critics say, is that “public interest” was long defined so narrowly that much information is routinely withheld. Even after B.C.’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner provided a broader interpretation, agencies stuck to the old ways.
The environmental law centre has fought to change the landscape. After several Oliver-area houses were destroyed by a mudslide in 2010, the UVic-based body — one of those outfits fuelled by young, idealistic law students — successfully complained to the information commissioner that the government should have disclosed reports warning of the danger. After 2014’s Mount Polley Mine disaster, another complaint forced the release of dam-inspection reports the government had balked at giving up.
Similar intervention in 2016 resulted in a knuckle-rapping for the Environment Ministry, which, instead of simply handing over test results related to contaminated drinking water near Armstrong, had demanded an FOI process (complete with fee) that took months to complete. (Sandborn says that when the law centre asked the Oregon government for the same sort of information, the public servant who answered the phone replied: “Tomorrow’s a holiday. Is the day after soon enough?”)
In December, the information commissioner’s office released guidelines clarifying what “in the public interest” is supposed to mean. That’s fine, but there’s often a gap between what that office says should happen and what actually takes place on the front lines. Note that in an op-ed in the Feb. 14 Times Colonist, Larry Pynn wrote about being blocked by a municipal staffer recently when looking for Cowichan Valley logging plans.
It’s great that, in the wake of the uproar unleashed by Speaker Darryl Plecas, the legislature is finally being dragged under the umbrella of B.C.’s information rules. It will be even better if the keepers of the information make it available proactively, without needing a nudge.
It shouldn’t take prodding and coaxing to get public bodies to disclose the kind of information that allows people to make educated decisions and question the actions government takes in their name.