Here is the response from the BC Liberal Party to our election survey on freedom of information and privacy issues for 2005.
These are the questions we sent to the leaders of BC’s political parties to survey their views on freedom of information and privacy.
If or when your party forms the next B.C. government:
1. Do you think that access to government information should be increased? If so, what measures will you take to make it more accessible?
2. What specific reforms or amendments would you like to make to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPP Act)?
3. Since 1998, both NDP and Liberal administrations have drastically cut funding for administration and oversight of the FOIPP act. Most recently, the budget of the information and Privacy Commissioner’s office was slashed by 35%, seriously reducing its effectiveness. When elected, what approach will you take to funding the FOI process? For example, will you restore FOI budgets that have been cut?
4. When the FOIPP act was passed, it was often stated that “fees will not be a barrier to access.” Today, many FOI applicants find fee estimates to be higher than ever – in fact, a major barrier. Do you think fees are a problem, and will you advocate more cost recovery for FOI or less?
5. Do you think there should be a fee for access to one’s own personal information?
6. In his annual reports, the Information and Privacy Commissioner has repeatedly indicated that the foremost problem in the FOI process is excessive delay in responding to requests. Do you think action should be taken to reduce delay in responding to FOI requests?
7. Do you think the FOIPP Act should be extended to quasi-governmental bodies that are currently exempt, such as the new BC Ferries Corporation and the 2010 Olympic Games Organizing Committee?
8. In 1996 the NDP administration changed the FOI Request Tracking System (RTS), so that it now rates requests by political “sensitivity.” Since then, requests labeled “sensitive” are delayed significantly and the names of applicants are passed on to officials outside of the FOI branches. Do you approve of this practice, and if not, will you take steps to eliminate it?
9. Following the tainted blood scandal, Ottawa passed a law to penalize the improper shredding and alteration of records by officials in the federal government. Will you advocate the same for the provincial government?
10. A senior BC Government official recently stated publicly that “I delete my email as fast as I can.” This highlighted a harmful trend toward a more “oral” style of government, where as little as possible is written down in order to avoid FOI requests. What is your position on such practices? Do you advocate any specific remedies to ensure the creation and preservation of public records?
11. Do you think the Legislature itself (eg. Clerks and MLAs’ offices) should be covered by the FOIPP Act? As well, will you implement recommendation 17 of the Special Committee that reviewed the FOIPPA, which is to extend the definition of officers of the legislature to include, for example the police complaints commissioner and the child and youth advocate?
BC FIPA has presented its submisson on the Anti-terrorism Act to the House of Commons Subcommittee on Public Safety and National Security.
The submission, titled “Canada’s Anti-terrorism Act:
an unjustified limitation of freedom of information and privacy rights” lays out BC FIPA’s position on the Anti-terrorism Act (ATA) and how it threatens freedom of information and privacy in Canada.
BC FIPA believes that the relationship between freedom of information, privacy and the ATA is one that profoundly impacts the health of democracy in Canada. Further, we believe that Parliament should be concerned about how the ATA’s failure to respect privacy and information rights has the side effect of inhibiting Canada’s ability to effectively fight terrorism and ensure public safety.
FIPA recommends that the changes brought in by the ATA be rolled back. They are unnecessary and therefore wasteful, and potentially harmful to public safety.
BC FIPA has proposed revisions to s. 13 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in Response to the Decision in College of Physicians of British Columbia v. British Columbia (Information and Privacy Commissioner) in its submission to the Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).
Section 13 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act permits an exception from access for “information that would reveal advice or recommendations be developed by or for a public body or a minister”. Until recently, it had been generally believed that “advice or recommendations” was limited to documents or reports that advocated that government choose a particular course of action or make a particular decision; in effect, “we recommend that you do this”, or “we advise that you do that”.
In the recent “Dr. Doe” case, however, the Sexual Conduct Review Committee of the College of Physicians was able to withhold from an applicant experts’ reports about whether or not she had been hypnotized. The Court of Appeal held that the s. 13 exception was not limited to recommendations as defined above; instead, the investigation and gathering of facts could be exempted from access pursuant to s. 13, regardless of whether or not any decision or course of action was actually recommended.
The result is a departure from the original intent of the statute. Applicants can now be denied access to a great variety of documents that would previously have been available to them. This will be the case even where the documents are about those applicants themselves and directly affect their interests.
The legislation should be amended to reflect the intention that the words “advice or recommendations” in s. 13 are limited to actually advising or recommending that government do something.