The BC government’s new Government Information Act takes some useful steps to preserving information, but it has a big hole and also takes a major step backward.
The biggest problem is that it contains no duty to document.
Recently several freedom of information requests come back with not a single piece of information attached. Perhaps the most incredible is the government’s claim that it has no records whatsoever of any of the dozens of meetings with more than 80 people that took place about the Highway of Tears in northern BC.
This bill will do nothing to stop the spread of this cancer on government transparency.
On top of that, the Depression era law replaces, the Document Disposal Act, at least provides for the possibility that someone who gets rid of government records improperly will face justice. Violating the Document Disposal Act could result in charges under the provincial Offences Act.
Bill 5 specifically removes the application of the Offences Act, so there will be no chance of anybody in government facing legal consequences for improper actions dealing with government documents.
This is quite a contrast to the government ‘s actions in the Ministry of Health data breach case, where they called the RCMP about the potential misuse of government information. We hope the government will be able to explain this difference as the bill is debated.
Commissioner Denham has also expressed concerns about the bill, particularly the government’s failure to heed here repeated calls for a legislated duty to document. BC FIPA supports her concerns. You can read her letter to the Minister here.
The Commissioner issued a report last year about the massive (33,000 boxes) backlog of unarchived documents, and it does not look like this bill will deal with this problem. Nor does it reduce or eliminate the $454 being charged to put a single box of records in the BC Archives. The only other province that charges to put records in the archives (Saskatchewan) has a $15 fee.
The Government of British Columbia can and should do better than this.