FIPA and the BC Civil Liberties Association have joined forces to oppose a blatant move by the BC Liberals to assert strict Cabinet control over future public inquiries.
On April 24, the BC government introduced Bill 23, a revamped Public Inquiry Act, which radically changes the rules for inquiries. Historically, the law required public inquiry reports to be publicly tabled in the Legislative Assembly. Under the new bill, a public inquiry commission will not be able to issue its report to any person other than the minister, and Cabinet will have the power to decide when and if a report from a public inquiry will be released.
“This act takes both the ‘public’ and the ‘inquiry’ out of public inquiry, said BCCLA president Jason Gratl. “It’s nothing more than a scheme to thwart independent oversight and government accountability.”
Other proposed changes include:
- Bill 23 will exclude the courts from reviewing orders made by commissions in the course of a public inquiry.
- Section 5 allows the government to terminate a public inquiry or change its terms of reference at any time before a commission issues its final report.
- Bill 23 limits the powers of public inquiries by creating two types of inquiries – “study commissions” and “hearing commissions”. Each type of commission will have a very limited range of investigative powers.
“Under this legislation, it is unlikely there could be a report on the child care system such as Ted Hughes just presented,” stated FIPA Executive Director Darrell Evans. “Apparently the BC Liberals will no longer tolerate such independent scrutiny.”
“This bill even allows for everything related to a public inquiry to be exempt from the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act,” Evans continued. “At a time when the federal government, as its first order of business, is passing legislation to make government more accountable, the BC government is proposing a bill with the express purpose of making itself less accountable.”
CONTACTS: Darrell Evans, FIPA: (604) 739-9788
Jason Gratl, BCCLA: (604) 317-3013