The BC government’s handling of a recent Freedom of Information request from the NDP has laid bare the “culture of denial” rampant among government decision-makers. Information mistakenly released to the NDP reveals hand-written advice by a top political aide to Solicitor General John Les, which suggests severing politically-sensitive information from the requested documents on the spurious basis that it could be considered ‘advice.’
“This is exactly the kind of behaviour that prompted us to launch the Campaign for Open Government,” said campaign spokesperson Darrell Evans. [Campaign website]
“Once again the government is trying to use the FOI act’s ‘policy advice’ exception as a catch-all reason for withholding key information – but what they want to withhold is not policy advice, it is factual information and analysis that will form the basis for decision-making. The actual recommendation section was already blacked out. This is political interference of the worst kind,” stated Evans.
It also took more that six months for the NDP to receive the documents they requested, far longer than the 30 working days set out in the Act. “It has become standard practice for FOI requests to take longer than 30 days. Sometimes it takes more than a year to receive the documents requested,” said Evans.
The Campaign for Open Government was launched this fall with the goals of convincing the government to:
1. Implement the recommendations put forward by the 2004 Special Committee of the Legislature on the FOI Act;
2. Increase funding to public bodies that respond to FOI requests and to the Information and Privacy Commissioner; and
3. End the “culture of denial” amongst political aides and bureaucrats.
The Campaign is a coalition of diverse groups that include the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the BC Civil Liberties Association, the Sierra Legal Defence Fund and the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.
Now that the truth of what really goes on with FOI requests has been exposed by the NDP’s FOI request, the Campaign hopes this will put pressure on the Liberals to ensure that amendments to the FOI act planned for the spring will genuinely strengthen the Act.
“The BC Liberals promised in the 2001 election to be the most open and accountable government in Canada, but instead they are constantly engaging in these tactics of secrecy. If the Liberals want to keep their promise to British Columbians, then they must implement the reforms we are calling for.”
Contact: Darrell Evans, 604-739-9788
More information on FOI in BC and the Campaign for Open Government