Civil society groups kick-off Right to Know Week by calling for immediate action to reform and update FIPPA

Earlier today we sent a joint letter to Premier John Horgan and Minister Jinny Sims supporting Freedom of Information and privacy reform.

The text of the letter, signed by a number of well-known groups and individuals, is set out below. See here for the PDF copy.

September 24, 2018

The Honourable John Horgan
Premier of British Columbia
Victoria, BC

The Honourable Jinny Sims
Minister of Citizens’ Services
Victoria, BC V8W 9E2

By Email: premier@gov.bc.ca; LCTZ.Minister@gov.bc.ca

Dear Premier Horgan and Minister Sims:

Re: Reform of Freedom of Information and Privacy Legislation

This year, Right to Know Week will be celebrated the week of 24-30 September. Right to Know Week provides organizations, groups, and people across Canada an opportunity to come together to raise awareness of the importance of the right of access to government information, and to call for action with a view to strengthening and protecting this fundamental right.

We are marking 2018’s Right to Know Week by writing to you regarding the need for immediate action to reform and update BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

The FIPPA is outdated, and meaningful and substantive reforms are long overdue. This has been the conclusion of various studies and reports, including the 2016 Report of the Special Legislative Committee tasked with reviewing the Act. It is also our conclusion as active users and observers of BC’s Freedom of Information system. Necessary changes include:

  • Creating a real legislative ‘duty to document’ under FIPPA, to end the practice of ‘oral government’ and ensure that government officials are legally required to keep accurate, complete records of what they do on the job;
  • Tightening certain exceptions to disclosure, particularly sections 12 (cabinet records) and 13 (policy advice), including taking steps to end the abuse of these provisions;
  • Bringing all subsidiaries of educational and other public bodies within the scope of the FIPPA; and
  • Creating penalties, under the FIPPA, for government officials who interfere with freedom of information rights.

Your government has expressed a commitment to improve BC’s freedom of information system, and we know that you have taken steps to consult with the public and the FOI community (through the Spring 2018 public engagement on FOI and the ongoing Freedom of Information Rules Project conducted by the Ministry of Citizens’ Services). However, we have yet to see the introduction of legislation to reform the FIPPA.

In our experience, governments of all types and at all levels frequently speak about the importance of transparency, accountability, and the right to know, and opposition political parties often call for FOI reform. However, these claims rarely translate into meaningful actions to improve the legislation that supports our right to know.

There is an opportunity for your government to show true leadership in this area by bringing forward legislation to reform the FIPPA. We note that 84% of respondents in a 2018 Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of BC FIPA believe that FOI reforms should be put into law before the next provincial election. There is both a pressing need for change and a clear public mandate for it. We hope that you will mark this Right to Know Week by announcing – and committing to – a timetable for the introduction of a FIPPA reform bill.

We are available to work with your government to help bring about positive changes to protect the information rights of all British Columbians and build a stronger democracy.

Yours Truly,

 

 

 

 

Sara Neuert
Executive Director, BC FIPA

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Larsen
President, BC FIPA

 

Micheal Vonn, Policy Director, BC Civil Liberties Association
Darrell Evans, Executive Director (volunteer), Canadian Institute for Information and Privacy Studies Society
Kris Constable, President, Canadian Institute for Information and Privacy Studies Society
Tamir Israel, Staff Lawyer, Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic
Randy Christensen, Staff Lawyer, EcoJustice
John Hinds, President and Chief Executive Officer, News Media Canada
Beth Clarke, Development and Program Director, Wilderness Committee
Vincent Gogolek, FOI and Privacy Expert,
Toby Mendel, Executive Director, Centre for Law and Democracy
Stanley Tromp, Journalist
Robyn Laba, Senior Researcher, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs
Laura Tribe, Executive Director, OpenMedia

FIPA’s submission on ATIA reform

November 1, 2017

FIPA’s Submission on ATIA reform (Bill C-58)

The long-promised Liberal amendments to the Access to Information Act (ATIA) were finally revealed just before Parliament’s summer recess, and the reaction was swift and overwhelmingly negative.

Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault (who was not consulted by the government on the proposed legislation) was also highly critical, saying “If passed, it would result in a regression of existing rights.”

Commissioner Legault issued a special report which detailed her many criticisms of what the government is proposing.

FIPA sent our own extensive criticisms in our submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

NEWS RELEASE: Proposed Law Leaves Lots of Holes in Outdated Access to Information Act

MEDIA RELEASE
June 19, 2017

Proposed law leaves lots of holes in outdated Access to Information Act

VANCOUVER, June 19, 2017 – The bill tabled late this afternoon by the three ministers in Ottawa does not meet the promises made by the Liberal Party of Canada in 2015.

What was announced today will make some useful improvements to Canada’s outdated Access to Information system, but there will still be black holes in the law that will prevent information from being released.

“Today’s announcement doesn’t even meet what the Liberals promised in the last election,” said FIPA Executive Director Vincent Gogolek. “There are some significant improvements being proposed, but there are lots of shortcomings.”

Some significant points include:

  • The Information Commissioner will be given the power to make orders, but will still be prevented from even looking at documents the government claims are cabinet documents. These will continue to be excluded completely from the ATI process.
  • There will be proactive release of a variety of types of information from Ministers’ offices, but Canadians will still not be able to request information from those offices and appeal to the Commissioner if the government refuses to release the documents.
  • There is no indication that the government is going to introduce a duty to document as recommended by every Information Commissioner in the country.
  • There will be a Legislative review of the Access to Information Act every five years, as promised.
  • The government will continue to charge $5 per ATI request, despite the fact the Commons ETHI committee recommended it be abolished, partly because each $5 cheque costs $55 to process.

“If we are called to testify on this legislation, we will have a number of recommendations to improve it,” Gogolek said. “We hope the government will be open to improvements, because this bill certainly needs them.”

 

BC Government keeps important environmental records behind closed doors

MEDIA RELEASE

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.

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Contact:
Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director
BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association
vincent@fipa.bc.ca  | (o) 604-739-9788 | (c) 604-318-0031

Calvin Sandborn, Executive Director
Environmental Law Centre
csandbor@uvic.ca  250-472-5248

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 .