FIPA’s submission on ATIA reform

November 1, 2017

FIPA’s Submission on ATIA reform (Bill C-58)

The long-promised Liberal amendments to the Access to Information Act (ATIA) were finally revealed just before Parliament’s summer recess, and the reaction was swift and overwhelmingly negative.

Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault (who was not consulted by the government on the proposed legislation) was also highly critical, saying “If passed, it would result in a regression of existing rights.”

Commissioner Legault issued a special report which detailed her many criticisms of what the government is proposing.

FIPA sent our own extensive criticisms in our submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

NEWS RELEASE: Proposed Law Leaves Lots of Holes in Outdated Access to Information Act

MEDIA RELEASE
June 19, 2017

Proposed law leaves lots of holes in outdated Access to Information Act

VANCOUVER, June 19, 2017 – The bill tabled late this afternoon by the three ministers in Ottawa does not meet the promises made by the Liberal Party of Canada in 2015.

What was announced today will make some useful improvements to Canada’s outdated Access to Information system, but there will still be black holes in the law that will prevent information from being released.

“Today’s announcement doesn’t even meet what the Liberals promised in the last election,” said FIPA Executive Director Vincent Gogolek. “There are some significant improvements being proposed, but there are lots of shortcomings.”

Some significant points include:

  • The Information Commissioner will be given the power to make orders, but will still be prevented from even looking at documents the government claims are cabinet documents. These will continue to be excluded completely from the ATI process.
  • There will be proactive release of a variety of types of information from Ministers’ offices, but Canadians will still not be able to request information from those offices and appeal to the Commissioner if the government refuses to release the documents.
  • There is no indication that the government is going to introduce a duty to document as recommended by every Information Commissioner in the country.
  • There will be a Legislative review of the Access to Information Act every five years, as promised.
  • The government will continue to charge $5 per ATI request, despite the fact the Commons ETHI committee recommended it be abolished, partly because each $5 cheque costs $55 to process.

“If we are called to testify on this legislation, we will have a number of recommendations to improve it,” Gogolek said. “We hope the government will be open to improvements, because this bill certainly needs them.”

 

BC Government keeps important environmental records behind closed doors

MEDIA RELEASE

BC government keeps important environmental records behind closed doors

Environmental Law Centre and FIPA ask Information Commissioner to investigate

VANCOUVER, February 24, 2017 – In a report released today, the Environmental Law Centre (ELC), and the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA), called out the BC government for failing to proactively disclose a wide range of important environmental records.

Over the past decade the Information and Privacy Commissioner, the Ombudsperson, the Forest Practices Board and the Auditor General have all specifically recommended that certain classes of documents should be disclosed proactively — but those recommendations have often been ignored.

For example, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is still not posting contravention decisions to show how our forest practices laws are being broken — contrary to the recommendations of the Forest Practices Board. And the Ministry of Environment is not publishing copies of its compliance orders across most of the Province.

“So you can go to a website and promptly find every Vancouver restaurant that has broken a minor health regulation in the last year – but you can’t find those who have broken the rules on Crown land,” said FIPA Executive Director Vincent Gogolek.

Proactive disclosure is essential, because the enforcement of BC’s environmental regulations relies heavily on the public to raise issues and complaints. Without proactive disclosure, citizens and groups are forced to go through the Freedom of Information system to obtain the information necessary to launch a complaint – if they receive it at all.

For example, when the ELC tried to get copies of Government authorizations for liquid manure spraying above the Hullcar drinking water aquifer in 2015, Government officials said it might charge the ELC up to $600 for such orders.  And then release of the orders was unreasonably delayed – in contrast to other jurisdictions that promptly make such orders available.

The types of documents that the groups say should be proactively released include environmental orders, permits, contravention decisions, and policy manuals. Public disclosure of regulatory penalties is also important for the penalties to have a true deterrent effect and promote compliance.

“The public availability of such documents is absolutely necessary to keep government accountable and protect both our fragile ecosystems and the health of British Columbians,” said ELC Executive Director Calvin Sandborn.

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Contact:
Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director
BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association
vincent@fipa.bc.ca  | (o) 604-739-9788 | (c) 604-318-0031

Calvin Sandborn, Executive Director
Environmental Law Centre
csandbor@uvic.ca  250-472-5248

For a copy of the full submission asking the Information Commissioner to take action to ensure more government transparency, go to www.elc.uvic.ca .

Time for Action on BC FOI Reform

The BC Legislature is coming back on Monday July 25 for a special sitting to pass legislation to allow the City of Vancouver to bring in a vacancy tax.

However, there is also a pressing need for changes to the FOI law in this province.

Last week saw former Ministry of Transportation political staffer George Gretes plead guilty to obstructing the Information and Privacy Commissioner in her investigation of the ‘Triple Delete’ scandal. It is important to note that he was not charged with having deleted information, because that is not actually an offence under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

This highlights the need for both a legislated duty to document and for stiffer penalties for violations of the Act. These actions were recommended last year by Commissioner Elizabeth Denham and her predecessor, David Loukidelis. The Special Legislative Committee reviewing the Act recommended similar changes in May of this year.

We had Ipsos Canada ask people in this province what they thought about these issues, and this is what they found:

  • 96% of British Columbians believe it is important that government officials be legally required to keep accurate, complete records of what they do on the job.
  • 84% think government officials who interfere with access to information rights should face penalties.
  • 85% of respondents believe these reforms should be put into law before the next provincial election in 2017.

(Full poll questions and responses can be found here: https://fipa.bc.ca/poll/)

Vaughn Palmer’s column earlier this week catalogued the FOI failings of the BC government, but stated the government had the issue under “active study” the duty to document. Of course Commissioner Denham first recommended this action more than three years ago, so presumably they should be able to put together legislation to implement this amendment by now.

If the government doesn’t manage to get to deal with these vital issues during the July sitting, they should have a fall sitting to do it. There is no excuse for delaying action to restore public confidence in access to information.