By CHAD SKELTON
February 3, 2011
The B.C. government says it will soon begin posting records it releases in response to Freedom of Information requests on its website – a move it says will improve transparency but critics fear could discourage requests.
The government’s move comes just month after BC Ferries, which became subject to FOI requests again on Oct. 1, became the first provincial agency to routinely post FOI records on its website. BC Ferries has argued the policy makes it more transparent.
However, the ferry corporation has also taken a hard line on FOI fees – charging requesters for even 15 minutes of processing time – and typically posts the records it releases late in the day, when newspapers and TV stations are nearing their deadlines.
“It is basically faux transparency,” said Vincent Gogolek, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA). “Based on the way [BC Ferries] designed the system and the way it seems to be operating, the intention behind it is to actively discourage requesters.”
FIPA has filed a formal complaint about how BC Ferries handles FOI requests to Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.
“One of the reasons we filed the complaint was a fear this would go province-wide if it was seen as being successful in reducing the number of requests,” said Gogolek.
Gogolek said his group supports the idea that FOI records should be made available to everyone. He just thinks the original requester should have a week or so to review the records first.
“It’s good that this stuff is going up, no argument. But why does it have to go up immediately?” he said. “I think you have to give it to the requester first.”
Without that courtesy, said Gogolek, requesters will be less willing to put in the time needed to file FOI requests and to pay the fees for processing them, which can be in the thousands of dollars.
“If people give up on the process … then there will be fewer requests,” he said. “So you’ll actually have a reduction in transparency for all of us.”