Info Crusader fighting Ottawa’s LRT contractor for…

Info crusader fighting Ottawa’s LRT contractor for more inspection reports

Access to information expert Ken Rubin has been trying to get non-conformance reports generated on the construction of the Confederation Line LRT. (SUPPLIED PHOTO).


Ken Rubin wants to know what’s going on beneath the surface.

But the Ottawa access-to-information expert is hitting one roadblock after the next as he tries to get access to records showing problems that have arisen during the construction of the city’s largest ever infrastructure project, the Confederation Line LRT.

His battle underscores the level of secrecy, or confidentiality, that’s accompanied the building of city’s $2.1-billion light-rail line., due in part to the contractor’s tight control of information.


“You can’t bury your head in the tunnel,” Rubin said. “You have to come out and relate to people.”

Rubin is fighting to get complete disclosure of the “non-conformance” reports produced in 2015 and 2016 kept by the city on the LRT project.

Rubin said the city and contractor Rideau Transit Group should remember that it’s the largest project in the city’s history and that taxpayers want to know about its progress, even if there are blemishes.

He appealed to the information and privacy commissioner of Ontario last January after getting a sense that there were, in his view, delays by the city and RTG.

The city authorized the release of 64 reports in early August 2017 but Rubin continues to fight for the disclosure of more records.

The reports contain information about the deficiencies found in the construction and other processes. Each report has details of the glitch and how it was fixed.

Rubin said transparency on the LRT project is especially important since there have been reports of workers being injured on the job site. The Citizen recently reported on workplace injuries and labour complaints recorded by the project’s joint health and safety committee.

There have been dozens of stop-work orders issued by Ontario Ministry of Labour and a few serious near misses, such as the Rideau Street sinkhole in June 2016 and a toppled crane last April.

But Rubin’s access-to-information fight centres on managing the quality of construction work.

On Friday, Rubin wrote again to the information and privacy commissioner again asking that the commissioner order the city to release more non-conformance reports since the potential release of certain documents hasn’t been challenged by the city or RTG. He also took the city to task for not joining him in strongly advocating for the release of information when the city itself says it has no opposition to the documents going public.

There are probably few access-to-information departments in Canada, and certainly in Ottawa, that don’t know the name Ken Rubin. He has filed thousands of access requests as one of the country’s most dogged investigative researchers. In 2015, Rubin won an investigative award from the group Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

Rubin filed his request with the city on Aug. 23, 2016, and the city identified RTG as a third party that would have an interest in the documents being released under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The city seems to be fine with releasing the reports since it doesn’t believe the documents constitute advice from a consultant or would expose commercial information supplied in confidence.

However, in a recent written representation to the privacy commissioner, a city lawyer said RTG is “best placed” to say if the consortium’s business operations will be harmed if the records are released.

In its own representation, RTG wrote that the records shouldn’t be released because they would reveal construction techniques, technical information or trade secrets, which are legislated reasons for an institution to hold back information.

“There is a threat of significant prejudice to RTG if the records are disclosed, as it could reasonably be expected to harm RTG’s position in the competitive market,” the consortium’s lawyer wrote to the IPC.

There’s no overriding public interest reason to disclose the rest of the reports, RTG’s lawyer wrote.

Rubin, naturally, disagrees and he explained why he persists rather than simply dropping the appeal.

“Because it’s the most major infrastructure project in Ottawa and a lot of people are going to ride this system,” Rubin said. “What do they have to hide?”

Rubin said he understands why RTG would want to keep the records under lock and key (or behind a password-protected database, as the case is) but he argues that the public interest on the project carries significant weight.

“I do think this is a major area that we’re on embarking on and we have to get it right,” Rubin said, “and one way to get it right is to have transparency.”