Statement on Section 22 of Bill 35: FIPPA Reform

From FIPA President Mike Larsen

The introduction of the amendments to B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) contained in section 22 of Bill 35 demonstrate that the government is willing to move forward on legislative reform.

And as the all-party special committee who reviewed the Act in 2016 found in their 39 recommendations, the FIPPA is definitely in need of reform.

But, when it comes to the proposed amendments to the FIPPA contained in Bill 35, the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) supports the assessment of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of B.C. (OIPC).

We are firmly committed to the requirements for local data storage contained within the Act. We do not support amendments to the legislation that function to erode the protections enshrined in the Act. The OIPC assessment of the language in section 22 of Bill 35 as “too permissive” is entirely accurate.

B.C. FIPA is disappointed by the proposed reforms to the FIPPA for the following reasons:

  • The government has made numerous commitments to transparency and privacy that are not achieved by these amendments. They promised comprehensive FIPPA reform in their campaign; they have consulted with the public around FIPPA reform; they have strong recommendations for reform from legislative review and from current and former Information and Privacy Commissioners.
  • We do not support reforms to the Act that weaken existing privacy protections for British Columbians. The proposed amendments deal with exceptions to current outside-of-Canada processing and storage restrictions. To date, this is the only legislative reform that the government has proposed to the FIPPA. Rather than strengthening freedom of information or protection of privacy, the proposed amendments is a qualification of existing rights, and not an expansion.
  • We do not need incremental FIPPA reforms through “Miscellaneous Statute Amendments”. We need a comprehensive overhaul of the FIPPA that is informed by a deep and sincere commitment to updating and expanding the information and privacy rights of British Columbians. This requires vision and leadership.

Despite all of this, the proposed amendments in section 22 of Bill 35 do demonstrate that the government is willing to make reforms to the FIPPA. In the wake of scandal, the challenge for the government will be to realize the possibility of these reforms. The proposed amendments for the FIPPA in Bill 35 are a move that is too little, too late, and in the wrong direction.

The government now has an opportunity to distinguish itself from previous governments by proposing meaningful reform that further the information and privacy rights for British Columbians. They have promised transparency and accountability and it is now time to demonstrate it.

Criminal Investigation into the Conduct of a Former Minister

Vancouver, October 7, 2019 –  The Premier of British Columbia, John Horgan, announced late Friday that he has accepted the resignation of the Minister of Citizens’ Services, Jinny Sims, due to an ongoing RCMP investigation into her conduct. At this time, precise details into the nature criminal investigation of Minister Sims are unknown.

The former Minister of Citizens’ Services oversaw the administration of the freedom of information laws that are contained within the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and the records management practices contained in the Information Management Act (IMA).

During their 2017 campaign, the NDP promised to make reforms to the FIPPA. These included the creation of a duty to document government decisions and the inclusion of this provision within the FIPPA. Instead, the government added this provision to the IMA, which places authority within the former Minister to ensure government accountability. If the provision were to be included in the FIPPA, independent oversight would be given to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of BC.  

“This is a time for the government to move forward with a comprehensive reform of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act,” says Sara Neuert, the Executive Director of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. “This is a necessary step in rebuilding trust with the public, it’s what was promised, and it’s the recommendation of the all-party special legislative committee that reviewed the FIPPA in 2016, former Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, and current Commissioner Michael McEvoy.”

The former Minister of Citizens’ Services, Jinny Sims, issued a public apology in the spring of 2018 for conduct that contravened BC’s freedom of information laws. In the spring of 2019, a former staff member made several new allegations, which included an accusation that the former Minister continues to break these laws. We will be following the RCMP investigation very closely.

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 BC FOI News Story Index

Vancouver, September 26, 2019 – As part of Right to Know Week 2019, Independent journalist Stanley Tromp has published the BC Freedom of Information (FOI) News Story Index. The new resource, which received support from the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, is a database that documents significant news items produced using BC’s FOI laws since they came into force in 1993.

The resource includes more than 1,900 news items based on government records obtained using BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (and other FOI laws), including items featured in newspapers, magazines, websites, radio and television. They are all part of the new Excel database that Mr. Tromp has separated into 24 searchable categories.

“This resource represents a huge step in demonstrating the importance of BC’s freedom of information laws,” says Sara Neuert, the Executive Director of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. “It shows how the legislation has been used in the public interest for almost 30 years, and helps to put in perspective what we’re at risk of losing without law reform.”

The BC FOI News Story Index will be a useful reference for students of journalism, FOI applicants and appellants, media lawyers, special interest groups, historians, and anyone interested in using freedom of information laws in order to exercise their right to know.

As the database demonstrates, BC’s freedom of information laws have been instrumental in breaking some of the most important stories since 1993. This new resource highlights the importance of the laws in more detail than ever before. Tromp provides a thorough introduction to the Index that emphasizes the public interest value of FOI, makes the case for reforming BC’s FOI law, and provides inspiration and encouragement for aspiring accountability journalists.

The BC FOI News Story Index also received support from Tom Crean.

The BC FOI News Story Index is available on Tromp’s website: http://www3.telus.net/index100/intro2019

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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Commissioner’s Order protects privacy while promoting democratic values

Vancouver, August 30, 2019 – Yesterday, the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC, Michael McEvoy, issued an Order stating that BC’s privacy laws apply to the electoral district associations of federal political parties, despite their contestations.

The Order affirms that all organizations in BC, including those created by federal political parties, must be held to the same standard when it comes to the protection of privacy. Under BC’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA), individuals have the right to know what personal information is in the possession of an organization, how this information is used, how it has been acquired, and where it has been shared.

Until yesterday’s Order, federal political parties operated as if they were not subject to any privacy laws that grant people these vital information rights, which in turn negatively affects both privacy and Canada’s democratic values. Electoral politics are increasingly shaped by big data. The Cambridge Analytica scandal gave the public a glimpse into how data collection, database development, and micro-targeting have become key components in political parties’ electoral toolkits.

“It is our position that the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information by political parties at any level should be subject to strong and enforceable privacy legislation,” says Mike Larsen, FIPA President. “People should have a right to know how political parties are using their personal information, and collection and use should be based on the principle of informed consent.”

FIPA was issued a notice of hearing in this case and made a submission that challenged the argument that the application of PIPA to a federal electoral district association would infringe on the Charter of Rights Freedoms, which Commissioner McEvoy has agreed with. In the next phase of this process, the Commissioner will consider whether the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information by the electoral district association complies with PIPA.

Contact:

Mike Larsen, President

BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Email: fipa (at) fipa.bc.ca

Phone: 604-739-9788