ACCESS TO INFORMATION WILL SUFFER IF POLICY SPREADS TO OTHER PUBLIC BODIES
Vancouver – After being brought back under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), BC Ferries has set up a system designed to discourage FOI requests, especially those from public interest groups and the media.
The new policy states that any records released to requesters will immediately be posted on the BC Ferries website. The result will be that requesters will be deprived of first use of the information they obtained and a large part of the motivation for making FOI requests.
FIPA has filed a complaint about the policy with Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, stating that it “…considers this policy to be a pre-emption of the rights of requesters and highly destructive to the purposes and proper functioning of the Act.”
“This is not the first time a public body has used this technique to discourage FOI requests,” said FIPA policy director Vincent Gogolek. “BC Ferries is the first public body to make it official policy and use it to actively discourage requests from the media and others.”
The BC Ferries policy works this way:
- Requesters will be required to go through the normal processes for FOI requests.
- BC Ferries charges fees to the person requesting the information, to the maximum permissible in every case.
- Any released records are posted to the BC Ferries website. If requested electronically, the requester will receive them at the same time they are posted. If sent in hard copy, the records will be posted within 24 hours of the records being mailed to the requester.
- BC Ferries sends a news release telling the media what records have been released and where to find them.
“It is outrageous for BC Ferries to charge fees while refusing to do their legal duty to assist requesters,” said Gogolek. “What public interest group or media outlet will take on the arduous task of working through the FOI request process and paying what are often ridiculous fees if the records they ask for are put up on BC Ferries website first?”
“The eventual outcome will be what BC Ferries intends: a huge drop in requests, with the result that very little information will actually be posted and available to the public.”
Although BC Ferries may try to spin this plan as transparency or routine release, they have not previously put up any information that should be routinely released, such as the salaries, benefits and expenses of senior management. The Comptroller General pointed to inflated costs in this area as a rationale for putting BC Ferries back under FIPPA.
CONTACT: Vincent Gogolek, policy director, FIPA 604-739-9788 cell 604-318-0031