By Robyn Doolittle
Back in 2005, when I ran the news section, my co-gumshoe editor and I would spend hours brainstorming ways to uncover various Ryerson “secrets.”
The most alluring, perhaps, was the Coca-Cola contract. Not because we expected some terrific scandal within its pages, but because whenever we brought it up, admin would stiffen in their chairs, and robotically spew out a prepared speech about the deal being sealed under a strict confidentiality agreement.
When Eye reporters launched a series on the Cola Wars in September 1998, we received a similar reception. Since then, obtaining the Coca-Cola contract has become our very own quest for the holy grail.
My term as news came and went without uncovering the document. But about a year later, campus papers got the break they’d been waiting for. On June 10, 2006, Ontario universities and colleges became subject to the province’s Freedom of Information (FOI) Act — just like virtually every other government funded institution.
Before, it was up to the individual school to decide what would be made public. You can imagine how little that was. But now, suddenly everything from the board of governors’ once private Ryerson e-mails, to the school’s industry contracts are now available to anyone with a bit of patience and five bucks for the initial processing fee. (If the university has to put some extra work into locating the requested information, there is an additional charge.)
So, at the end of September, the Eye once again picked up the torch. We sat down and penned our first FOI request at Ryerson. Myself and a pack of editors marched it straight over to Heather Driscoll’s office in upper Jorgenson. The experience was truly a religious one.
On Oct. 3, I received a confirmation letter. Nearly two months later, we received a notice that our request had been approved and we needed to pay a measly $10 for the information. Ryerson made us jump through one more hoop while they waited for Coke’s official response, and by the second week of January the sacred envelope was in our hands.
The process took significaly longer than we would have hoped. I was led to believe the package would arrive at least a month earlier, but after decades of operating in a culture of secrets, we realize it’s going to take time for the school to adjust. See Sarah Boesveld’s story on page 5. Just seeing the story in print signifies an exciting time in our history.
And by our, I don’t only mean scandal-hungry student journalists. As a Ryerson student or community member, you too have the ability to demand answers.
You can find more about the process at http://www.ryerson.ca/about/generalcounsel/infoprivacy/. And if this seems like too much work, pop me an e-mail and perhaps The Eyeopener can do it for you.
So, for our fellow crusaders, both past and present, raise a glass in victory. Tonight, we celebrate like kings.
* * * * * On a side note, Josh Wingrove, Amit Shilton and Carla Wintersgill are Eyeopener super stars this week. This team swept the John H. McDonald newspaper awards this past Monday.
And we’re super proud.