NEWS RELEASE: Support for the Heiltsuk First Nation, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, and Tsilhqot’in National Government’s requests for COVID case information

BC FIPA and BCCLA support the Heiltsuk First Nation, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, and Tsilhqot’in National Government’s requests for COVID case information 

VANCOUVER, September 15, 2020 – The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) and the BC Civil Liberties Association’s (BCCLA) have signed a joint letter to express support for the Heiltsuk First Nation, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, and Tsilhqot’in National Government’s and their requests for information from the BC Ministry of Health on COVID case information. 

Despite repeated requests, the Ministry of Health refuses to disclose information relating to presumptive and confirmed COVID cases proximate to these rural Indigenous communities. This has prompted the nations to make a complaint to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. The Ministry of Health should address these requests and provide information pursuant to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA). 

 “The complaint has a strong factual basis that is grounded in the risks experienced by specific rural Indigenous communities. We think that their ‘right to know’ is strongly supported by S.25 of FIPPA because the requested information pertains to the risk of significant harm to the health and safety of a group of people.” says Jason Woywada, FIPA’s Executive Director. “A crisis of this nature is precisely the time when transparency matters most, and these types of releases should be routine. If government doesn’t already have the necessary data sharing agreements with Indigenous communities in place to address these types of scenarios, they should be working quickly to address that gap.” 

“The Heiltsuk First Nation, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, and Tsilhqot’in National Government have rights to self-determination and self-government, and to be actively involved in developing and determining programs for maintaining the health and well-being of their people” says Meghan McDermott, Interim Policy Director at the BCCLA. “By refusing to share the requested health data (with appropriate confidentiality provisions), the Ministry of Health is essentially preventing these communities from exercising the very rights that the province recognized when it enacted DRIPA.” 

The history of colonization and the impacts of pandemics have disproportionately harmed Indigenous communities. The BC Government can work with Indigenous governments to disclose this information while also protecting privacy, but the Ministry’s failure to provide critical health information not only inhibits the Indigenous groups’ right to self-determination, it renders the province’s repeated commitments to “reconciliation” questionable.  

See for the full letter here.

Take action by supporting the Keep Safe campaign here https://keepsafecampaign.com/ and sign the petition  https://you.leadnow.ca/p/keepsafe

Contact:

Jason Woywada, Executive Director 
BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association
(E) jason@fipa.bc.ca 
(P) 604-739-9788 
Meghan McDermott, Interim Policy Director 
BC Civil Liberties Association 
(E) meghan@bccla.org 
(P) 778-679-8906 

Response from BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Assocation (FIPA) on the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) of BC’s special report “Now is the Time: A report card on government’s access to information timeliness”

Vancouver, September 2, 2020 – FIPA is encouraged by the report but discouraged by the climate that gave rise to it. The fact that public bodies have been consistently violating the law is deeply concerning and FIPA urges the BC Government to take this report seriously.  

 “The NDP ran on a platform favouring stronger FOI law in 2017. We haven’t seen them follow through on those commitments in a meaningful way.” according to Jason Woywada Executive Director of BC FIPA . “This report is just the latest evidence, built on years of recognition of systemic delays in BC’s FOI system. FIPA has repeatedly emphasized that ‘access delayed is access denied’ and we hope this report will encourage this government to finally act.” 

“The current pandemic has underscored the vital importance of ensuring timely and accurate access to information. Transparency is not optional in a democracy – it is essential,” adds Mike Larsen, BC FIPA President.  

A transparency system can only be considered functional if it provides members of the public with timely access to the information that they need to participate in the democratic process and to hold public bodies to account. Too often in BC (and Canada), we have seen breakdowns in transparency caused by governments’ failure to adequately resource FOI/ATI offices. When these offices are unable to meet the timelines established by law, the public’s right to know inevitably suffers. Timeliness can be improved, and rights respected when public bodies commit to the prompt and routine proactive release of categories of records of public interest. Transparency should be the default – not a struggle – and this requires deliberate and consistent action to improve the proactive disclosure of records. In 2017, the NDP echoed these sentiments in response to a FIPA questionnaire on transparency and privacy priorities heading into the provincial election. 

FIPA agrees with all of the OIPC’s recommendations but emphasizes that, in addition to taking steps to improve compliance and efficiency, BC’s key piece of transparency legislation – the FIPPA – needs reform. Policy and compliance changes are an important part of this process, but law reform is paramount.  

At a minimum, we expect all public bodies to follow the law, and to comply with all of their responsibilities under FIPPA. This means creating and updating systems and providing the resources necessary for public bodies to accurately and efficiently respond to public FOI requests.  

BC FIPA has been and continues to call for comprehensive reform to FIPPA, which has been echoed by past Special Legislative Committee reports and by the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC.  

Fallen Behind: Canada’s Access to Information Act in the World Context (2nd Edition)

Stanley Tromp has updated his 2008 book, Fallen Behind: Canada’s Access to Information Act in the World Context.

From Stanley Tromp:

The first edition of this book in 2008 detailed how Canada’s Access to Information Act had fallen behind the rest of the world’s FOI laws. Since then, the problem has only grown far worse (enough so that the revised book could well be entitled Fallen Further Behind). 

Cover Page
Fallen Behind cover page

In the authoritative Global Right to Information Rating system of the world’s 128 national laws, Afghanistan ranks number 1, while Canada – which ironically has so worked hard to transform that nation into a modern democracy – ranks 58. Mexico ranks second, followed by (in order) Serbia, Sri Lanka, Slovenia, Albania, India, Croatia, and Liberia.  

In his preface to the new edition, Halifax human rights lawyer Toby Mendel writes, “As someone who travels around the world promoting the right to information, it is frankly a source of profound embarrassment to me how poorly Canada does on this human right.”

Bill C-58 (which is now law) grants the Information Commissioner a barely adequate power to order the government to release records, and this is merely a baby step forward. When will the ATI Act ever be raised to accepted global standards? Canadians should insist upon answers.

Find the update book here.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

NEWS RELEASE: Ministerial Order an exception to the rule

MEDIA RELEASE
March 30, 2020

Ministry of Citizens’ Services relaxes restrictions on the use of third-party tools and applications to disclose personal information inside or outside of Canada

VANCOUVER, March 30, 2020 – In the time of a global emergency, the protection of privacy and access to information rights needs to be kept at the forefront of policy discussions rather than used as a trade-off for convenience.Ministerial Order (no. M085) from the Minister of Citizens’ Services has called for a relaxation of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA)’s data residency provisions in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to allowing the various provincial health authorities to disclose personal information inside or outside of Canada in response to COVID-19, the Order has given public bodies approval to use third-party tools and applications to disclose personal information inside or outside of Canada so long as they are being used “to support and maintain the operation of programs or activities of public [bodies]” and “to support public health recommendations or requirements” such as social distancing, working from home, etc. The order has an end date of June 30th, 2020.

We are firmly committed to the requirements for local data storage contained within the Act, even in extraordinary times. BC FIPA acknowledges that we are facing unprecedented challenges arising from the need to respond swiftly and responsibly to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this cannot be done at the expense of data residency and broader privacy rights. The all-party special committee who reviewed the Act in 2016 recommended that the personal information of British Columbians be protected in accordance with Canadian law – storing or accessing said data outside of Canada could subject it to a lower standard of privacy protection.  

BC FIPA is continuing to monitor for instances where the privacy of BC citizens is being sacrificed during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We hoped the government had exercised due diligence and put appropriate and necessary overrides in place that were triggered with the declaration of an emergency. It appears they felt those measures were insufficient and they took further action” says Jason Woywada, BC FIPA’s executive director. “There needs to be consideration for the long-term impacts of personal information being disclosed to third parties that cross borders and the impact that creates. Privacy and data residency has been under attack for years by those who wish to profit from its erosion. Maintaining privacy and data residency requirements is a positive sum proposition and should always be considered.”

BC FIPA continues to call for a comprehensive overhaul of FIPPA that is informed by a deep and sincere commitment to updating and expanding the information and privacy rights of British Columbians.  

Contact: 
Jason Woywada, Executive Director 
BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association 

– 30 –

Related Links: 

Order of the Minister of Citizens’ Services: Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act: Ministerial Order No.M085 – March 17 
https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/services-policies-for-government/information-management-technology/information-privacy/resources/ministerial_order_085_respecting_disclosures_during_covid-19_emergency__march_2020_pdf.

Declaration of a state of emergency – March 18 
https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2020PSSG0017-000511

Decision of the OIPC Commissioner Michael McEvoy – March 18 
https://www.oipc.bc.ca/news-releases/2399

Report of the Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act 2016 
https://www.leg.bc.ca/content/CommitteeDocuments/40th-parliament/5th-session/foi/Report/SCFIPPA_Report_2016-05-11.pdf