As we approach the end of 2014, it’s time for our annual check-in on the progress that’s been made for our information rights. It’s been a busy year for Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, who has made a number of suggestions for important amendments to improve access and privacy laws in this province.
Sadly, the BC legislature has just finished its 2014 session, and the government has done nothing to make the legal changes she recommended.
In December last year, Commissioner Denham supported a complaint by BC FIPA and the UVic Environmental Law Clinic into the failure of government to carry out their duty under section 25 of the Act, which requires that it release information that is in the public interest. She also called for the government to amend this section to remove the requirement that the issue of public interest be “urgent” or timely. Commissioner Denham urged that the government make this amendment “at the earliest opportunity.”
The earliest opportunity would have been the spring session of the Legislature, but so far, the government has done nothing. There have been developments on this file, however. The Commissioner announced that she has another investigation going into s.25, this time after a complaint by BC FIPA in July 2014 about the BC government’s failure to release information about the weakened state of the Mount Polley taillings pond. Maybe the government is waiting for the result of this second investigation before leaping into action.
The Commissioner also made several recommendations to cut down on the over-disclosure of personal information through police information checks by enacting legislation to prohibit the release of non-conviction information for record checks and directing police to stop releasing non-conviction information (for positions outside the vulnerable sector).
To date, none of the Commissioner’s recommendations for legislative change have been enacted.
But that’s not all. Commissioner Denham released a special report this summer on the near complete collapse of the archiving and records system in government. She pointed out that that not a single box of records has been sent to the archives in more than a decade and that there is a backlog of more than 33,000 boxes overall.
That’s a lot of boxes.
In addition to recommending reorganization of responsibilities for records management in government, Commissioner Denham repeated her earlier call for new legislation to replace the Document Disposal Act, which dates from 1936.
The government has failed to respond to the overdue legislative reforms.
That is the tally for this year, but earlier calls for legislative reform also continue to go unheeded.
In response to the Commissioner’s call for a “duty to document” to be included in law, the government claims that the question is complicated, and they have no intention of doing anything before the next review of the Act in 2016.
Back in 2011, Commissioner Denham wrote to then-Minister of Citizens Services Margaret MacDiarmid to ask that she amend the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to address what she called “an accountability gap.” The Commissioner called for the inclusion of the subsidiary corporations of universities, colleges and other public bodies in the Act. She ended her letter to the minister with a call to action: “It is vital for open and accountable government that, whatever the form of the entity, if it is carrying on public business, it should be subject to FIPPA.”
Two and a half years later, there is still no sign of action from the government.
We will continue pushing the government to take these issues seriously, but to do so we need your help. Consider becoming a member, or making a year-end donation today, so we can keep fighting for your information rights in 2015.