Where do the Parties Stand on Access to Information Reform?

As Canadians prepare to vote in the upcoming federal election, we at FIPA are working to determine where political parties stand on key access to information issues. Together with Newspapers Canada and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, we’ll be asking parties to describe what they will do to repair and improve transparency policies and practices, and raising three key concerns:

Bureaucrats are currently able to claim that documents being requested under ATIA are cabinet documents, and therefore cannot be released. Neither the Information Commissioner nor the courts can review these claims, nor can they order these documents to be released.

  • In 2011 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a lower court ruling that the Access to Information Act does not to apply to either Ministers’ offices or the Prime Minister’s Office. This means that not only are these offices’ (and their documents) outside the Access to Information law, but so are their employees.
  • If this law remains unchanged, ministers’ offices will continue to be a black hole where information disappears, and people working there will be able to interfere with access rights without having to worry about facing charges under s.67.1 of the Act.
  • Unlike her colleagues in a number of provinces, Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault does not have the ability to order the government to release documents. She (and many others) has recommended the law be amended to give her this power.

While these three issues, of course, aren’t the extent of our concerns, questions surrounding them will help voters get an idea of the extent to which each of the parties are prepared to make access to information a priority and tackle the shortcomings of the system.

In our next issue of the Bulletin—as well as on our website—we’ll share with you the final questions and the responses we receive.

Read more from the August 2015 Bulletin »

NEWS RELEASE: BC Government ordered to re-examine Mt. Polley information

Information Commissioner says other ministries should also look for information that must be released in public interest

VANCOUVER, July 2, 2015 – In a major report released this morning, Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has gone beyond simply telling the BC Government to re-examine its files for information to be released surrounding the Mount Polley tailings pond collapse. The Commissioner has made a major reinterpretation of the law dealing with release of information in the public interest without a Freedom of Information request.

Commissioner Denham has told the government to have all other departments to look through their files for information that must be released under a new interpretation of Section 25(1) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

Section 25 of FIPPA requires a public body to release information “without delay” without a FOI request where there is “…a risk of significant harm to the environment or to the health or safety of the public or a group of people”, or that is “for any other reason, clearly in the public interest.”

According to the Commissioner’s new interpretation, the element of urgency implied by the words “without delay” applies to the release of information by the public body. In other words, information that is clearly in the public interest must be released “without delay.”

“The Commissioner’s decision will have far-reaching positive effects for the public’s right to know,” said FIPA Executive Director Vincent Gogolek. “It will be very interesting to see what else the BC government is required to release under this improved interpretation of the duty to release information in the public interest.”

BC FIPA filed a complaint in 2014 with the BC Commissioner last summer over the BC government’s failure to release information in its possession about the collapsed Mt. Polley tailings pond. The complaint set off the Commissioner’s investigation. The Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria also filed a complaint.

Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham had released a report in 2013, following another complaint by BC FIPA and the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria, on the same section of FIPPA. In her 2013 report, the Commissioner had also recommended the BC government amend the law to remove the ‘urgency’ requirement.

“We are glad to see the Commissioner using her powers to bring about the improvements to the public’s right to know,” said Gogolek, “especially since the government didn’t see fit to make the changes she recommended 18 months ago.”

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Contact:

Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director

BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Email: Vincent (at) fipa.bc.ca

Phone: 604-739-9788

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NEWS RELEASE: New decisions are a major victory for FOI requesters

Information Commissioner closes big loophole in FOI law

 

VANCOUVER, June 19, 2015 – In a series of decisions released today, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has ruled that governments and public bodies can no longer withhold information in a record on the basis that it is ‘outside the scope’ of the FOI request.

This puts an end to one method used by governments and public bodies to arbitrarily remove information from records requested under FOI.

“This is a huge victory for FOI requesters in BC,” said BC FIPA Executive Director Vincent Gogolek. “The Commissioner’s office has emphatically told public bodies in this province that they can’t use this loophole ever again.”

BC FIPA had appealed to the Commissioner after filing an FOI with ICBC requesting records related to the data sharing and privacy aspects of combining the BC driver’s licence with the BC Services Card. ICBC had refused to disclose parts of records on the basis that they were “not responsive”, or outside the scope of the FOI request.

In Order F15-25, the adjudicator stated that that: “a public body is not authorized by FIPPA to withhold parts of responsive records on the basis that those parts are, in the public body’s view, non-responsive or outside the scope of the access request. Therefore, ICBC must process the information it withheld as being ‘not responsive’ or ‘out of scope’ by either disclosing it or withholding the information that it is authorized or required to withhold under Part 2, Division 2 of [Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act] FIPPA.”

“This restores proper interpretation of the law, and requires public bodies to justify their decisions to redact FOI records”, said Gogolek. “It eliminates one of the ways bureaucrats and politicians could avoid releasing records without being able to point to a section of the law that allowed them to do it.”

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Contact:

Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director

BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Email: Vincent (at) fipa.bc.ca

Phone: 604-739-9788

About Us