FIPA submitted multiple Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the BC government this fall regarding the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and the public engagements held in the summer of 2021. Government requested extensions for all of them. That pushed release for some until after the end of session.
We pushed back on this one and having received the release package for a key request, we can see why government would have preferred to delay.
The communications plans for the BC government engagement on the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act features redactions of over 2/3rds of the pages (91 of 135), The original release features ‘white space’ redactions. We went back and replaced them with black-line redactions so that the sheer amount of information withheld by government was made visible. We also used optical character recognition to make the document keyword searchable, and you can find it here.
What the Ministry released shows the following:
- Problems and priorities were identified in 2019, well before the pandemic.
- Cabinet decided the course of action on March 31, 2021.
- Design and validation took place between April and June of 2021. Groups “consulted” here were just part of Government seeking validation for their decided-upon direction. Non-disclosure agreements were to be used to keep things quiet.
- On June 15th, the same day they launched the public engagement, they briefed the Caucus on the decisions reached on Bill 22 and the direction that was being undertaken.
- When the public engagement didn’t give them the results they wanted, they commissioned an IPSOS poll to cherry pick results.
The Government acted in a disingenuous manner in its consolations. We do not trust them to uphold their commitments or act in a trustworthy manner based on these events.
Bill 22 will become the new law of the land and we will be working to ensure that the Special Legislative Committee receives clear and diverse public input on the priorities of British Columbians that lower barriers to access public information.
Chronology of events
Here is the order of events that gave rise to this release.
On June 15th, when Citizens’ Services undertook their public engagement in the summer we were quick to point out the failed methodology and false equivalencies it attempted to create. Their lack of effort to promote or encourage public submission was likewise concerning given this engagement was likely to inform Ministry submission to the Special Legislative Committee which had just been reconstituted despite delays.
That prompted us to submit the following FOI request on August 25th.
- The BC Government through Engage BC conducted an online survey on Information Access and Privacy beginning on June 15, 2021 and concluding on July 15 2021. https://engage.gov.bc.ca/govtogetherbc/consultation/information-access-and-privacy-2021/; We are seeking any communications plan, briefing note or other documents containing description of the plan to distribute the 2021 Information Access and Privacy Survey to solicit public input and records detailing plans to communicate survey results From April 1, 2021 to August 24, 2021.
Despite the legislated time frame for responses to FOI requests, an extension was requested on October 15th. We agreed to this request, on the good-faith understanding that the volume of work was high.
Bill 22 was introduced on October 18th.
On November 19th they requested another extension. This time we didn’t agree.
- I don’t agree to the extension. This is relevant information in the public interest that can inform the public debate around Bill 22. You have not provided any justification for the delay, and it therefore appears arbitrary.
- In combination with other delayed responses relevant to Bill 22, this is beginning to take on the air of a government department lacking independence and acting as an extension of the Ministers political will. Given the unpopularity of BIll 22 it appears the department and Minister are acting in their own interests to push through and mitigate damages by obscuring the facts rather than act in public’s interest. Please release the information as soon as possible.
On November 23rd they released the records, with extensive white-space or negative redactions. This sort of redaction may save on printer toner, but we find that blacked-out pages paint a more accurate picture of what is being withheld. See Access in the Academy p. 39. for more on this.