BC whistleblower sticks neck out for turtles

Gordon McAdams, a BC government ecologist, was fired on his last day before retirement for filing confidential government documents with the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

McAdams was dismissed for attaching confidential government records to an affidavit he filed in support of a court action to stop the province from building a road through endangered painted-turtle habitat in Grohman Narrows Provincial Park, near Nelson. His case has become a rallying point for BC advocates of whistleblower protection legislation.

McAdams, who had been employed by the provincial government for 35 years, was fired on his last day at work for the provincial government. This would have cost him $50,000 in lost salary and pension benefits, had the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union not gone to bat for him. He has now reached a confidential settlement with his former Ministry.

The Supreme Court ruled that Bill Barisoff, who was then the minister of water, land and air protection for the Liberal government, had made “an unauthorized exercise of his statutory power” when he approved the road.

The road was not built after Mr. Barisoff’s order was set aside by the courts — but in the meantime, Mr. McAdams had been fired for breaching the civil-servant’s oath of secrecy.

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Ottawa Routinely Breaks the Law in Treatment of Media Requests under Access to Information, Newspapers Claim

Canadian Newspaper Association asks Information Commissioner to Investigate Secret Rules that Block Transparency

The federal government is applying bureaucratic systems that filter access to information requests made by media and subject them to scrutiny that causes unfair delays, in violation of Canada’s Access to Information Act, Canadian Newspaper Association President and CEO Anne Kothawala said today.

“We now have proof of something newspapers have long suspected: media requests for government information take longer to process because they are subjected to such a degree of scrutiny and even censorship, that often whatever prompted the request in the first place loses relevance or ceases to be topical,” Ms. Kothawala said.

Speaking to a national conference on Access to Information in Ottawa, Ms. Kothawala said freedom of information law is supposed to be applied fairly and without discrimination. “How ironic that secret rules are being applied to legislation that is meant to counter secrecy,” she said.

See also:

Public’s right to know in failing health in Canada, says national study
May 31, 2005

Canadians using freedom of information laws to find out how government decisions are affecting their daily lives are very likely to be denied, according to a national audit by the Canadian Newspaper Association.

The CNA study found that while the federal government as well as Canada’s provinces and territories all have freedom of information legislation, in many cases compliance with these laws falls short. Results of the study were released on May 28 in 45 newspapers across Canada.

Read the CNA news release and press coverage

Information Commissioner of BC calls for records creation legislation

BC Information and Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis released his 2004/2005 annual report to the Legislature today and called on the BC government to enact legislation legally requiring public bodies to document their actions or decisions.

“If governments are to be held accountable and the public’s right of access to government information is to be meaningful, information must be accurately and securely preserved to ensure there is a record of what has been done”, the Commissioner stated. “Without reliable recorded evidence, governments cannot demonstrate that they have used public resources responsibly and have discharged their duties and used their powers lawfully.”

Visit the Commissioner’s website

Read the news release

Environmental Law Centre requests public inquiry into freedom of information policies in BC

The Environmental Law Clinic (ELC) has asked B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner to conduct a Public Inquiry into whether government discriminates against environmental groups that request government documents under the province’s Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation. ELC student Scott Giesbrecht made the request on June 23, 2005 on behalf of Sierra Legal Defence Fund and Western Canada Wilderness Committee.

The ELC submitted that government has made it more and more difficult for environmental groups to obtain public information. Indeed, environmentalists have faced numerous problems in pursuing FOI requests, including delays, excerption and excessive fees. The ELC also submitted that in a number of cases, government has appeared to act contrary to the spirit and letter of Freedom of Information legislation.

Included within the request was a documented history of over a dozen instances where environmental organizations were stymied in their attempts to acquire information through the provincial FOI process.