This is an appeal under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (the Act). The appellant, a group of associated corporate entities, submitted 21 separate request letters to the Ministry of Finance (the Ministry). As this matter is somewhat complicated, I will provide some context for the requests before describing them further.
Prior to submitting the requests, the appellant was involved in a condominium construction project (the project) which was financed, in large measure, by loans from a trust company (the trust company) which was also a partner in the project. As a result of a restructuring agreement between the appellant and the trust company, the trust company eventually took over ownership of 100% of the project. The appellant then complained to the Ministry about the trust company's loan practices, alleging that the trust company had violated the Loan and Trust Corporations Act (the LTCA). The trust company has commenced a civil action against the appellant for damages in connection with the project, and the appellant has launched a counterclaim against the trust company.
The 21 requests essentially seek information about the trust company relating to the project, the investigation of the appellant's complaints, and other information about the trust company collected by the Ministry as part of routine reporting and inspections.
The Ministry initially responded with a fee estimate and interim access decision. The fee estimate was for a total of $881, and included estimated charges for search costs, photocopies, preparation of the record and shipping costs. The Ministry advised that the exemptions in sections 13(1) (advice or recommendations) and 17(1)(a) (third party information) could apply to the responsive records.
In response to inquiries from the appellant, the Ministry then issued a second decision letter. This letter explained that the Ministry's first estimate was based on a "collective" approach to searching for records -- that is, the Ministry would do one search to identify responsive records pertaining to all 21 requests. This letter also offered the appellant the alternative of having the searches conducted on an "individual" basis -- i.e. the Ministry would do 21 separate searches (one for each request). The total fee estimate for searching on an individual basis was $20,211.
After receiving the second decision letter, the appellant's counsel provided a deposit to the Ministry, in the amount of $440.50, and asked that the search proceed on a "collective" basis.