FIPA has sent a letter to BC’s Information and Privacy Commissioner requesting an investigation into what appear to be false claims that there were “no responsive records” to requests made under the freedom of information act.
Both FIPA and the province’s Official Opposition made requests for records of government discussions concerning the creation of a Harmonized Sales Tax in BC. FIPA received a “no responsive records” response from the Office of the Premier, while the NDP got the same response from the Ministry of Finance.
FIPA made its FOI request on October 20, 2009, but it was later revealed that various media outlets who had also made requests received HST-related documents, including briefing notes for a First Ministers’ Meeting on January 16-17, 2009.
FIPA is concerned that the “no records” claims are part of a disturbing trend identified in the Commissioner’s latest report, “It’s About Time- Report Card on the Timeliness of Government’s Access to Information Responses”.(pp.16-17).
The report notes that an increasing number of FOI requests are returning with ‘no responsive records’. FIPA has experienced similar problems with other requests, and has received a number of complaints from other requesters encountering similar difficulties.
“Because the system requires confidence in public bodies carrying out adequate searches for requested records, cases like this one cast a pall over the overall functioning of FOI in this province,” stated Vincent Gogolek, FIPA’s policy director.
“It appears the problem is much more serious than you initially supposed,” the letter to the Commissioner continues. “Therefore, I am asking you to exercise your powers under s.42(1)of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to carry out an investigation into the increased use by the provincial government of ‘no responsive records’ in reply to FOI requests.”
Media coverage of HST-related records released under FOI