Support Information and Privacy Rights in BC

We’re calling on the provincial government to keep their promise

Earlier this month, we teamed up with the BC Civil Liberties Association and created a petition to encourage the British Columbia government to keep their campaign promise of reforming the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

This Act is as important today as it was when it was created in the early 1990s. It creates a legal framework that regulates how public bodies treat personal information and assigns information and privacy rights to British Columbians.

But in the nearly thirty years since the Act was passed, a lot has changed while the Act has stayed largely the same. Just think, the new technology at the time was the fax machine. The internet and our connected world has changed the way information is created, stored, used, and accessed. And our laws need to change as well.

The status quo isn’t good enough

Two years ago, during the campaign period for our last provincial election, we asked each political party about their plans to update BC’s FIPPA. We asked the New Democratic Party (NDP) if they would include a duty to document within the FIPPA and if they would create penalties for those who interfere with information rights.

In response to both questions, the NDP unequivocally committed to including a duty to document within the FIPPA, and to creating penalties for those who interfere with information rights.

Today, over two years later, we’ve seen no action towards realizing these commitments. In fact, while the government celebrated legislative changes to the Information Management Act as improvements to “transparency and accountability to British Columbians,” they were being accused of breaking the very laws they are mandated to uphold.

The Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC, Michael McEvoy, released this statement about the legislative changes to the Information Management Act and the serious accusations facing government:

‘As it now stands, the Information Management Act designates the Minister herself as primarily responsible for ensuring her Ministry’s compliance with the duty to document its decisions. Citizens would find it very surprising that, on its face, the current law makes a Minister responsible for investigating their own conduct. This is unacceptable and falls short of the independent oversight required to ensure public trust and accountability.’

The tragic irony of the situation seems to be lost on government. Serious accusations of wrongdoing, the kinds that have been recently levelled against a government Minister, cannot be appropriately investigated by that very same Minister.

If British Columbians are to truly have improvements to government “transparency and accountability” then what is needed is independent oversight. The FIPPA creates a regulatory framework within the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, one that operates separately from government.

To keep its promise, and to truly increase “transparency and accountability to British Columbians,” the government must assign independent oversight to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner by creating a duty to document within the FIPPA.

What is a ‘Duty to Document’?

A duty to document is quite simple and something that the original writers of the FIPPA did not think would be necessary to include in the legislation. It’s the idea that government must record their decision making process, which is fundamental principle to functional freedom of information laws.

For example, if someone were to request documents related to a new tax that government was requiring of citizens, that request would not be successful if no records were to exist. The duty to document would compel government to document their decision making process so that citizens can exercise their information rights, like the right to know.

The original lawmakers who drafted the FIPPA did not anticipate that government would hold meetings in person and over the phone without writing anything down (a phenomenon known as ‘oral government’), use personal email addresses to conduct government business, and maliciously delete records in order to circumnavigate freedom of information laws (a practice known as ‘triple-delete’).

But unfortunately that is now the reality in which we are living.

We are not alone in calling for a duty to document. The all party special legislative committee that reviewed the FIPPA in 2016 made the specific recommendation to include a duty to document within the FIPPA. That committee included BC’s current Attorney General, David Eby.

In addition, Information and Privacy Commissioners in BC have called for the inclusion of a duty to document within the FIPPA. Elizabeth Denham, in her report, Access Denied wrote:

‘Government should create a legislative duty to document within FIPPA as a clear indication that it does not endorse “oral government” and that it is committed to be accountable to citizens by creating an accurate record of its key decisions and actions.’

And BC’s current Information and Privacy Commissioner, Michael McEvoy, has written this:

‘It is time for government to amend FIPPA to ensure that the vitally important duty to document has the oversight of my office, which is independent of government. The public interest requires this’

Yet despite these calls, the government has failed to act on their promise to protect the information rights of British Columbians.

We need your help

So after two years of government inaction, distraction, and obfuscation, we are inviting the public to join our call for the government to keep its promise of reforming FIPPA. We have included four main points; the inclusion of a duty to document within FIPPA is just the beginning. Over the coming months, we’ll expand on the other points.

If you are interested to learn more about the FIPPA, and our role in getting the legislation passed, check out our podcast. We have an episode on the history of the Act and an episode on the duty to document.

But the most important thing that you can do, is to add your name to our petition and voice your support for the privacy and information rights of British Columbians.

Support information and privacy rights for British Columbians today

Support BCCLA and their fight to stop illegal spying!

Since 2014, the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has been pushing back against the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) through complaints filed with the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), the oversight body for CSIS.

BCCLA alleges that CSIS illegally spies on activist and environmental groups that operate in Canada and passes that information on to petroleum companies.

The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) supports BCCLA’s pursuit of government transparency, accountability, and the public’s right to question those in power.

In addition, FIPA concurs that spying on people who are exercising their right to protest is an attack on our freedom of expression, an abuse that cannot be tolerated in a free and democratic society.

We encourage you to support BCCLA, along with the other organizations involved in the complaint (Sierra Club of BC, the Dogwood Initiative, Leadnow.ca, and STAND), by learning more about their challenge to the unconstitutional spying on Canadians.

Data Subjects: Policing Info World conference

In this special edition episode of our Data Subjects podcast, we revisit our Policing Info World conference. On May 23, 2019, we co-hosted a conference that explored the data behind crime, law enforcement, and surveillance. Along with department of criminology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and the BC Civil Liberties Association, we heard from experts in law enforcement, academia, and the legal profession.

As this was a full-day conference, this episode is very long. Please see the show notes below to find the time codes and descriptions for specific panels and panelists.

This conference wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our sponsors: CUPE BC, News Media Canada, and Web exPress.

Show Notes

00:02:15Opening Remarks
00:07:49Panel 1: Data and New 
Surveillance Modes and 
Capacities
00:08:17Moderator: Mike Larsen 
(Professor and Co-Chair, 
Department of Criminology, 
Kwantlen Polytechnic 
University, FIPA 
President)
00:10:00Michelle Davey 
(Superintendent, 
Investigative Support Services, 
Vancouver Department)
00:28:00Dr. Wade Deisman (Associate 
Dean, Faculty of Arts, Kwantlen 
Polytechnic University)
00:50:10Josh Paterson (Executive Director, BC Civil Liberties Association)
01:08:38Questions
01:46:00Panel 2: Data and Predictive 
Policing
01:46:30Moderator: Dr. Carroll Boydell 
(Instructor,Department of 
Criminology, Kwantlen 
Polytechnic University)
01:48:02Ryan Prox (S/Constable, Crime 
Analytics Advisory & 
Development Unit, Vancouver
Police Department)
01:48:27Mike Larsen (Professor, 
Department of Criminology, 
Kwantlen Polytechnic 
University)
02:13:00Panel 3: Data and Bias-Free 
Policing
02:13:16Moderator: Sara Neuert 
(Executive Director, BC Freedom 
of Information and Privacy 
Association)
02:14:43Dylan Mazur (Community Lawyer, 
BC Civil Liberties Association)
02:31:36Michelle A. Cameron (Advisor /
Investigator, the University of 
British Columbia)
02:40:01Questions
03:27:09Panel 4: Data and the Border
03:27:24Moderator: Mark Hosak (Director 
of Community Engagement, BC 
Civil Association)
03:29:19Peter Edelmann (Immigration 
Lawyer, Edelmann and Company 
Law Offices)
03:58:41Meghan McDermott (Staff 
Counsel, BC Civil Liberties 
Association)
04:27:26Questions

The SINs of the Speculation and Vacancy Tax

Image of luxury tax square on monopoly board

We’ve been hearing from a lot of British Columbians who are concerned about sharing their Social Insurance Number (SIN) with the Ministry of Finance in the administration of the new Speculation and Vacancy Tax.

The Social Insurance Number is a sensitive piece of personal information that should only be provided under very specific circumstances. The concern from the public centers around the justification of the provincial government in asking for this information.

In order to provide more information to the public, we’ve reached out to the Ministry of Finance about where they draw the authority to request SINs, why they are necessary in the administration of the new tax, and how this information is going to be kept secure.

Before proceeding with the Ministry of Finances response, a general familiarization with two pieces of provincial legislation is useful: The first is with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act , which delineates how public bodies collect, use, and store personal information; and the second is the Speculation and Vacancy Tax Act, which outlines the administration of the new tax.

What follows is a response from the Ministry of Finance:

Authority to Collect SIN:

Social Insurance Numbers (SIN) are fundamental to British Columbia and Canada’s taxation system.  The Speculation and Vacancy Tax Act, subsection 64(1) authorizes the administrator to collect information from property owners through the annual declaration in order to administer the act.  Requiring personal information, including the SIN, is necessary for the administrator to determine tax liability, identifying whether property owners pay income taxes in Canada and whether an individual may be eligible for a tax exemption or BC tax credit. 

Why the SIN is being collected:

The collection of SIN is crucial to identify whether home owners pay tax in Canada and to confirm residency information.  This information is relevant to ensure individuals that live in their home, and are eligible, receive the principal residence exemption.  In addition, residency information is required to determine the amount of tax an individual is subject to, and, if applicable, the amount of speculation and vacancy tax credit an individual may receive.

How information is kept secure:

The SIN is one piece of personal information that is collected through the online declaration application.  eTaxBC is the online secure government application that is used for the declaration process.  All information entered into eTaxBC is encrypted at the time of entry.  Once a SIN is collected it is masked and the ability for employees to view the number is controlled by security access on a need to know basis. The personal information that is collected under the Speculation and Vacancy Tax Act is protected in a manner consistent with the BC Government’s Information Security Policy, Federal Security Standards, and provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

– The Ministry of Finance