NEWS RELEASE: Recommendations for Canada’s Digital Transformation

MEDIA RELEASE

October 4, 2018

Recommendations for Canada’s Digital Transformation

VANCOUVER, October 4, 2018 – The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association submitted a paper to the department of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development for their consultation on digital transformation.

The national digital and data consultation, including the roundtable discussions that took place across Canada from June to September of this year, were an important step to ensuring that government is taking all the varied and diverse stakeholders involved this process into account.

“We’re encouraged by government’s willingness to receive outside feedback and optimistic that Canada’s digital transformation will instigate much needed improvements to our privacy and data protections,” said FIPA executive director, Sara Neuert.

Our submission compared Canada’s existing privacy and data protection framework to international regulations like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. Based on this analysis, we created a list of recommendations, which include:

  • Increased funding for education and awareness around risks related to digital transformation and privacy breaches
  • The creation of a proactive reporting culture around privacy in government
  • An accessible complaints process for individuals who are reporting privacy breaches
  • Increased funding and investigative and enforcement power for the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the Office of Privacy
  • More research on the impact of privacy issues on marginalized groups in a digital transformation
  • Further study on the impact of public utilities being transferred to a digital platform
  • The creation of a new data protection and privacy framework that complies with digital transformation and sufficient time for interested groups to provide feedback prior to implementation.

The Innovation, Science, and Economic Development department will be issuing a report based on these consultations in the near future.

Contact:
Sara Neuert, Executive Director
BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association
Email: Sara (at) fipa.bc.ca
Phone: 604-739-9788
Cell: 604-318-0031

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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

BC Government introduces Public Interest Disclosure Act

Bill is a significant step in the right direction, but highlights problems with the current Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (FIPPA).

On April 25, BC Attorney General David Eby introduced legislation that would create a framework allowing public service employees to disclose serious wrongdoing, and provides general provisions to protect the discloser. The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) has called for whistleblower protection legislation for British Columbia and sees this as a significant step in the right direction.

According to a Ministry of the Attorney General press release,

The Public Interest Disclosure Act (2018) will enable concerned public servants to report incidents to their supervisor, an internal designated officer or the ombudsperson. The act makes it an offence to commit or direct a reprisal against such employee, which could take the form of a demotion, termination or disciplinary measure. Protection from reprisal is vital to employees feeling safe to report wrongdoing without fear that they may suffer consequences for doing so.

The legislation includes a number of much-needed components, including multiple reporting options for disclosers, confidentiality provisions, investigative powers, protections against reprisals, and the requirement that public bodies and the Office of the Ombudsperson file annual reports about disclosures.

While we strongly support the introduction of whistleblower protection legislation, BC FIPA is concerned that the definition of ‘wrongdoing’ under the Public Interest Disclosure Act would not encompass deliberate efforts to interfere with access to information rights under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). Section 7(1) of the PIDA defines wrongdoings to include:

(a) a serious act or omission that, if proven, would constitute an offence under an enactment of British Columbia or Canada;
(b) an act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of persons, or to the environment, other than a danger that is inherent in the performance of an employee’s duties or functions;
(c) a serious misuse of public funds or public assets;
(d) gross or systemic mismanagement;
(e) knowingly directing or counselling a person to commit a wrongdoing described in paragraphs (a) to (d).

FIPPA contains offences related to its privacy protection provisions and offences related to interference in investigations undertaken by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. It does not, however, contain offences related to general interference with access to information rights by public officials – including the unauthorized destruction of documents with the intention to avoid access rights. This means that such actions would fall outside the scope of 7(1)(a) of the PIDA. It is also not clear that the interference with access to information rights would be considered ‘gross or systemic mismanagement’ under 7(1)(d) of the Act.

There is a well-documented history of interference with access to information rights in BC, including routine destruction of records. The ‘triple delete’ scandal is a particularly egregious example, and it is important to recall that this case came to light through the actions of a whistleblower in the public service. This is precisely the sort of activity that should be covered by public interest disclosure legislation, and public service employees who wish to disclose such practices should know that can expect support, confidentiality, and protection from retaliation. The fact that such whistleblowing would not be covered by the PIDA is a serious shortcoming.

BC FIPA believes that this shortcoming could and should be addressed through the reform of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The Act requires a legislative ‘duty to document’ and the inclusion of an offence related to the alteration, concealment, or destruction of records with the intention of denying or interfering with access rights. The creation of such an offence would bring these practices under the scope of wrongdoing under s. 7(1)(a) of the PIDA.

Mike Larsen states “The effectiveness of whistleblower protection measures rests, in large part, on the forms of wrongdoing they contemplate and apply to. We need to be certain that public service employees who know about efforts to delete, conceal, or alter records with the intention of denying information rights can disclose this wrongdoing and receive full support and protection.”

 

NEWS RELEASE: BC Government introduces Public Interest Disclosure Act

MEDIA RELEASE
April 27, 2018

BC Government introduces Public Interest Disclosure Act

Bill is a significant step in the right direction, but highlights problems with the current Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (FIPPA)

VANCOUVER, APRIL 25, 2018 – On April 25, BC Attorney General David Eby introduced legislation that would create a framework allowing public service employees to disclose serious wrongdoing, and provides general provisions to protect the discloser.[1] The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) has called for whistleblower protection legislation for British Columbia and sees this as a significant step in the right direction.

According to a Ministry of the Attorney General press release,

The Public Interest Disclosure Act (2018) will enable concerned public servants to report incidents to their supervisor, an internal designated officer or the ombudsperson. The act makes it an offence to commit or direct a reprisal against such employee, which could take the form of a demotion, termination or disciplinary measure. Protection from reprisal is vital to employees feeling safe to report wrongdoing without fear that they may suffer consequences for doing so.[2]

The legislation includes a number of much-needed components, including multiple reporting options for disclosers, confidentiality provisions, investigative powers, protections against reprisals, and the requirement that public bodies and the Office of the Ombudsperson file annual reports about disclosures.

While we strongly support the introduction of whistleblower protection legislation, BC FIPA is concerned that the definition of ‘wrongdoing’ under the Public Interest Disclosure Act would not encompass deliberate efforts to interfere with access to information rights under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). Section 7(1) of the PIDA defines wrongdoings to include:

(a) a serious act or omission that, if proven, would constitute an offence under an enactment of British Columbia or Canada;
(b) an act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of persons, or to the environment, other than a danger that is inherent in the performance of an employee’s duties or functions;
(c) a serious misuse of public funds or public assets;
(d) gross or systemic mismanagement;
(e) knowingly directing or counselling a person to commit a wrongdoing described in paragraphs (a) to (d).

The FIPPA contains offences related to its privacy protection provisions and offences related to interference in investigations undertaken by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. It does not, however, contain offences related to general interference with access to information rights by public officials – including the unauthorized destruction of documents with the intention to avoid access rights. This means that such actions would fall outside the scope of 7(1)(a) of the PIDA. It is also not clear that the interference with access to information rights would be considered ‘gross or systemic mismanagement’ under 7(1)(d) of the Act.

There is a well-documented history of interference with access to information rights in BC, including routine destruction of records.[3] The ‘triple delete’ scandal is a particularly egregious example, and it is important to recall that this case came to light through the actions of a whistleblower in the public service. This is precisely the sort of activity that should be covered by public interest disclosure legislation, and public service employees who wish to disclose such practices should know that can expect support, confidentiality, and protection from retaliation. The fact that such whistleblowing would not be covered by the PIDA is a serious shortcoming.

BC FIPA believes that this shortcoming could and should be addressed through the reform of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The Act requires a legislative ‘duty to document’ and the inclusion of an offence related to the alteration, concealment, or destruction of records with the intention of denying or interfering with access rights. The creation of such an offence would bring these practices under the scope of wrongdoing under s. 7(1)(a) of the PIDA.

Mike Larsen states “The effectiveness of whistleblower protection measures rests, in large part, on the forms of wrongdoing they contemplate and apply to. We need to be certain that public service employees who know about efforts to delete, conceal, or alter records with the intention of denying information rights can disclose this wrongdoing and receive full support and protection.”

A PDF version of this press release can be found here.

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Contact:
Mike Larsen, President
BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association
mike@fipa.bc.ca | 604-599-3413

Sara Neuert, Executive Director
BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association
sara@fipa.bc.ca | 604-739-9788

[1] Bill 28 – 2018: Public Interest Disclosure Act: https://www.leg.bc.ca/parliamentary-business/legislation-debates-proceedings/41st-parliament/3rd-session/bills/first-reading/gov28-1

[2] Government introduces public interest disclosure legislation for public service: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2018AG0026-000729

[3] See OIPC Investigation Report F15-03 – Access Denied: Record Retention and Disposal Practices in the Government of British Columbia, Oct. 2015: https://www.oipc.bc.ca/investigation-reports/1874