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TDSB & Hijab Hoax Access to Info Rq

$1,485 of $2,000 goal

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Raving Canuck  is fundraising to access all of the communications at the Toronto District School Board  in regards to the Hijab Hoax incident. We're looking to get clarity on the TDSB's involvement in allowing a rushed press conference to take place at one of its schools -- where two kids told false stories about the made-up attack -- which led to the story going viral. 

Gaining access to documents at the provincial and municipal levels in Ontario is a very time-consuming and costly process. Unlike at the federal level, where additional processing fees can be waived and the total cost is typically only $5.00, provincial and municipal requests can cost excessive amounts of time and money. We've already filed the initial request with the TDSB and received a cost estimate of $955.00  to process the 908 pages of communications at the TDSB from January 12-16, 2018 regarding the hijab hoax.

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Cost Background:

In addition to the $955.00, we're also asking for the $6.00 we already spent on the initial request, as well as $750.00 for us to read over the 908 pages and file a report on Raving Canuck  (estimated 25 hours work at $30 per hour). Adding up all of the costs of this project, including an additional 13% sales tax and the roughly 3% processing fee taken by GoFundMe, the total comes to just under $2,000.00.

This may seem like a big ask, but with enough grassroot support it should be easily doable. Furthermore, we've filed an appeal with the Information and Privacy Commissioner to try and waive or reduce the fees of this request with the TDSB (but have heard from others that there are mixed results in appealing, and the process costs another $25.00).

We will publish the response from the commissioner and if the fees are reduced or waived we will apply the leftover money to more of our upcoming access to information requests with the Ontario Liberal government we have currently started.  What ever the final costs come to, we will be transparent with donors by posting the final amount asked for from the TDSB and ensure any left-over funds are used in upcoming projects. We hope that you join us in our pursuit for the truth in what happened at the TDSB, whether or not protocol was breached, in its response to the hijab hoax.

This is our first crowdfunding campaign to fund access to information journalism. We will use our future experiences doing access to information requests at the provincial and municipal levels to shine a light on the inadequacy the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and Municipal Freedom of Information and the Protection of Privacy Act when it comes to the public's ability to access government records in order to hold our governments accountable. We will also write columns for mainstream news outlets to raise awareness of the appalling condition of the access to information system in Ontario.

As the Trudeau government continues to pour millions of dollars into the journalism industry, we at Raving Canuck strive to do independent journalism funded by engaged citizens. Join us in our endeavour.

Past Experience Completing Access to Information Requests:

In the past, I've written stories based off of documents obtained from the federal government through access to information requests. ATIPs can be a powerful tool in keeping the government and bureaucracy accountable for their actions and how they spend Canadian and Ontarian taxpayers' money. 

Here are some previous examples of my journalism involving access to information requests:
The Mystery Of The Missing Canada 150 Project 
The Curious Case Of Maclean’s Government Grants 
Rogers Appears To Have Kept Grants For Magazines It No Longer Operates 
The Walrus Inflated Its Circulation To Government Grant Org 
The Cushy Connections Between The Walrus And The Liberal Party Of Canada 

Background on Hijab Hoax controversy:

After it turned out the hijab attack from last month was a hoax , questions have been raised  as to who was involved in making up the elaborate story and why the Toronto District School Board green-lit a press conference at the child's school a few hours after the alleged attack took place. The TDSB denies that they set up the press conference, that they were simply providing a facility for the family and media because of the bad weather outside.

However, the TDSB provided a spokesperson and they and the media didn't seem to see anything wrong with allowing the identities of the two children to be broadcast around the world, even though the police investigation had just gotten underway. Furthermore, there are 908 pages worth of communications from the TDSB during that time period relating to the hijab hoax incident, suggesting there is more to this story that needs to be uncovered.
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Late last month I had a conference call with five representatives from the TDSB, a mediator from the Information and Privacy Commissioner, and a veteran journalist from Ottawa, who I asked to join the call because he has extensive experience in filing freedom of information requests. The call ended with us agreeing to remove "complaint letters from members of the public and media communication that is any correspondence to and from media organizations" from my request to get all communications to and from the TDSB involving the hijab hoax incident from January. I decided to exclude these pages from the request, since they're likely inconsequential, to try and narrow the search down to the communications among TDSB decision makers and the different levels of government.

Two weeks later, the TDSB gave me a new cost estimate of $895 in order to process 838 pages. This was a slight drop from the original estimate of $955 to process 905 pages. In order to begin processing my request, the TDSB needs a cheque deposit for half of the estimated amount. I've now submitted the cheque and, unless the TDSB asks for an extension to process the request, I should receive the communications in a month's time.

In the meantime, I would like to try one more fundraising push. So far I've spent $35 in processing fees and ten hours of work on this ATIP (Access to Information and Privacy) request. If the estimate is correct, the processing of the documents will cost another $895. Deduct tax and the GoFundMe processing fees and I'm currently left with a little over $100 for my troubles. This does not include the many hours I will spend poring over the TDSB documents and writing a report. Many lament the poor standards of much of the journalism today, but if you want investigative, hard-hitting journalism you have to be willing to have patience and pay for it. If you're behind this story seeing the light of day, and want more hard-hitting journalism from Raving Canuck, please consider making a contribution to this project.

This crowdfunder is a trial balloon. If it is successful Raving Canuck will follow it up with other investigative projects. The next two prospective projects involve looking into the in flux of illegal immigration into Canada in the past couple years as well as the Ontario government's year-old Ontario Student Assistant Program -- giving free tuition to hundreds of thousands of post-secondary students from low-income houses, no matter their grades or if their program of study isn't a good investment for taxpayers.

With hindsight, choosing to crowdfund a large ATIP request probably wasn't the best choice for a trial balloon in crowdfunding investigative journalism because of the months it has taken to process the request. Future projects will not involve large ATIP requests and should take only about a month's time to complete.

Thank you to all of our contributors to date for your patience. We hope to have some answers on how the TDSB decided to host a press conference at one of its schools only a few hours after one of its students had been allegedly attacked.
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It's been a little over a month since Raving Canuck started its crowdfunding campaign to pay for the costs of getting the communications from the Toronto District School Board in regards to the Hijab Hoax.

Our promotion of the campaign in the first couple of weeks helped raise $1,150 of the $2,000 goal. In the last couple of weeks, we've been waiting for a response from the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario as we appealed the TDSB's cost estimate of $955. We've now received a "Notice of Mediation" from the commissioners office and are going to speak with a mediator in trying to get the costs lowered. The appeal process cost an additional $26 ($25 cheque+ postage) and more time.

As the reader can see, the process to get documents from the municipal and provincial entities is a laborious process. We encourage those interested in getting to the bottom of this story to help fund this cause.

We will do a second wave of promotion shortly, at the same time Raving Canuck publishes an investigative piece -- which has been in the works for some time --later this week.
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In a week's time Raving Canuck has raised just under $800 or 40 per cent of the $2,000 goal to fund our journalism project of finding out what happened at the Toronto District School Board during the Hijab Hoax debacle, and what led to the TDSB sanctioning a rushed press conference at one of its schools only a few short hours after the fabricated incident was alleged to have occurred.

The vast majority of the fundraising money has come from the generosity of complete strangers interested in getting to the bottom of this. I believe we're on track to reach our target, but I've also put up ads on our website promoting the fundraiser to help ensure we reach our goal. I also have a few other ways we can help promote the fundraiser and reach more people wanting to fund this project.

Last week I spoke with the TDSB's Freedom of Information Coordinator about the exorbitant $955 processing fee estimate. The coordinator, who was helpful in answering my questions, suggested I either revise the request (reducing the communications I get back) or appeal the cost estimate with the Information and Privacy Commissioner's Office. I do not want to reduce the FOI (Freedom of Information) return because I don't want to miss any relevant communications that might be important to this story. Instead, I'm getting pro bono assistance from a former journalist and legal expert (with expertise in filing FOIs) as to how best to move forward with this FOI request. I believe it's worthwhile to take a little bit of time to try and get the processing fees knocked down so that more of your money goes towards funding other investigative journalism projects, instead of towards paying government bureaucrats.

In the mean time, we will continue to try and reach our target of $2000. If the processing fees are knocked down, which seems unlikely at this point, I will publish the new cost estimate and reallocate the savings to our next FOI project, an investigation into Ontario hospital emergency room wait times and bed shortages.

After publicizing the TDSB's fee estimate last week, a startup news outlet's (Blacklock's Reporter) publisher from Ottawa, specializing in FOI requests at the federal level, suggested the estimated fees associated with my request were outrageous.

https://twitter.com/hollyanndoan
 
Although that might be true federally, at the provincial and municipal levels the steep estimated processing fees from the TDSB is all too commonplace for FOI requests.

https://twitter.com/DavidHains/status/971132413081473024

I also had a chance to interview Ontario PC leadership candidate Doug Ford last Sunday and asked him if he would look into reforming the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. He said he is open to changing it if he becomes premier of Ontario.

During the upcoming election I will try and get a response and commitment from all parties' leaders on what they would do to fix the cumbersome provincial and municipal FOI systems if they become the next leader of the province.

I will give another update in a week's time on this project. If you want more independent investigative journalism in Canada and Ontario please consider supporting us.

Thanks again to all of our recent donors funding this journalism project!
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$1,485 of $2,000 goal

Raised by 34 people in 6 months
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