NDP celebrates Liberal’s ineffective ‘Duty to document’

Image of Jinny Sims courtesy of BC NDP and used under CC-by-2.0

Vancouver, April 1, 2019A statement released yesterday by the Ministry of Citizens’ Services, which claims that “new legislative changes improve transparency and accountability for British Columbians,” is a significant misrepresentation of an effective duty to document and is a distraction from the pressing reforms that are necessary for BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

Creating a legislated duty to document within FIPPA has been called for by an all-party Special Legislative Committee that reviewed the Act in 2016, and by Information and Privacy Commissioners David Loukidelis and Elizabeth Denham.

These “new” legislative changes that NDP Minister Jinny Sims is promoting were actually initiated by the Liberal party in 2017. At that time, FIPA issued a press release that called the Liberal bill “a sad excuse for action on creating a duty to document government decisions” in the wake of the Triple Delete scandal that revealed an organized campaign to destroy government records.

In fact, the NDP put forward a private member’s bill at that time that proposed an actual duty to document in comparison to the Liberal’s ineffective bill.

In a statement issued by the Ministry of Finance in 2017, Liberal Minister Michael de Jong had claimed that their ineffective bill would “formalize this good practice in legislation while ensuring that British Columbia remains at the forefront of information management with strong oversight and consistent practice across government.”

Now, two years later, NDP Minister Jinny Sims is claiming that the same ineffective legislative change also “formalizes government’s obligation to document decisions and helps ensure records of decisions are available and accessible.”

The statements from the NDP and Liberal MLAs, made two years apart, are remarkably similar and entirely misleading. FIPA wants to see the creation of a meaningful duty to document—more in line with what the NDP was proposing two years ago—which would include:

  • The creation of mandatory documentation procedures. A discretionary duty to document is not sufficient.
  • Clear oversight from the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
  • The legislative change should be to the FIPPA, which affects over 2,900 public bodies, not the Information Management Act, which merely affects 41.

Contact:

Sara Neuert, Executive Director

BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Email: fipa (at) fipa.bc.ca

Phone: 604-739-9788

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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

Scandal at Legislative Assembly demonstrates need for Law Reform

Media Release

Scandal at Legislative Assembly demonstrates need for Law Reform

Vancouver, January 24, 2019 – The need for reforming British Columbia’s outdated Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) is evidenced by the recent scandal concerning misconduct and lack of oversight at B.C.’s Legislative Assembly.

Allegations made by house speaker Darryl Plecas reflect the ‘black holes’ that exist in the transparency of government bodies, such as the legislature and office of the parliamentarians.

“The Legislative Assembly is outside the jurisdiction of freedom of information requests,” says Sara Neuert, executive director of BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. “It’s a shortcoming of government transparency and accountability. We would have learned of this sooner had we been able to place legislature offices under scrutiny.”

Sweeping amendments to the FIPPA have been repeatedly put forward by FIPA over the past 15-years. Recommendations for change were also presented in the last Special Legislative Committee report published in May 2016 – echoing the calls for additions such as mandating a ‘duty to document’ and administering real repercussions to government officials who impede the FOI process. So far, the current government has made several commitments to advancing reform, though steps leading towards actual change have yet to arrive.

Bringing legislature offices under the dominion of FOI laws is not an impossibility and can be enacted rather swiftly. While doing so would be a welcome step towards modernizing the province’s FOI laws, it would ultimately be just a step. What the province truly needs – and has needed for years – are comprehensive reforms, only then can the government be held accountable by the taxpaying public. 

Contact:

Sara Neuert, Executive Director

BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Email: fipa (at) fipa.bc.ca

Phone: 604-739-9788

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