BC government keeps important environmental records behind closed doors
Environmental Law Centre and FIPA ask Information Commissioner to investigate
VANCOUVER, February 24, 2017 – In a report released today, the Environmental Law Centre (ELC), and the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA), called out the BC government for failing to proactively disclose a wide range of important environmental records.
Over the past decade the Information and Privacy Commissioner, the Ombudsperson, the Forest Practices Board and the Auditor General have all specifically recommended that certain classes of documents should be disclosed proactively — but those recommendations have often been ignored.
For example, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is still not posting contravention decisions to show how our forest practices laws are being broken — contrary to the recommendations of the Forest Practices Board. And the Ministry of Environment is not publishing copies of its compliance orders across most of the Province.
“So you can go to a website and promptly find every Vancouver restaurant that has broken a minor health regulation in the last year – but you can’t find those who have broken the rules on Crown land,” said FIPA Executive Director Vincent Gogolek.
Proactive disclosure is essential, because the enforcement of BC’s environmental regulations relies heavily on the public to raise issues and complaints. Without proactive disclosure, citizens and groups are forced to go through the Freedom of Information system to obtain the information necessary to launch a complaint – if they receive it at all.
For example, when the ELC tried to get copies of Government authorizations for liquid manure spraying above the Hullcar drinking water aquifer in 2015, Government officials said it might charge the ELC up to $600 for such orders. And then release of the orders was unreasonably delayed – in contrast to other jurisdictions that promptly make such orders available.
The types of documents that the groups say should be proactively released include environmental orders, permits, contravention decisions, and policy manuals. Public disclosure of regulatory penalties is also important for the penalties to have a true deterrent effect and promote compliance.
“The public availability of such documents is absolutely necessary to keep government accountable and protect both our fragile ecosystems and the health of British Columbians,” said ELC Executive Director Calvin Sandborn.
Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director
BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association
firstname.lastname@example.org | (o) 604-739-9788 | (c) 604-318-0031
Calvin Sandborn, Executive Director
Environmental Law Centre
For a copy of the full submission asking the Information Commissioner to take action to ensure more government transparency, go to www.elc.uvic.ca .