Whistleblower Accusations Highlight Need for Legislative Reform

Vancouver, May 17, 2019 – Question period in the BC Legislature this week has been occupied by the accusations of a whistleblower who claims that the Minister of Citizens’ Services, Jinny Sims, has been using her personal email address to conduct government business in order to circumvent Freedom of Information laws.

This is particularly troublesome as Minister Sims oversees the administration of those very laws and made a public apology only one year ago for a similar indiscretion.

During question period this week, Attorney General David Eby stated that the Office of the Information and Privacy (OIPC) Commissioner was the correct place to investigate accusations of this nature.

However, a statement today from the OIPC indicates that they are unable to investigate these claims.

“The Minister’s alleged failure to fulfill her duty to document is not a matter under my authority,” writes Commissioner Michael McEvoy of the OIPC. “This is a significant shortcoming of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).”

Legislative changes that recently came into effect, which Minister Sims characterized as a duty to document, give Minister Sims—not the OIPC—the authority to ensure compliance.

“As it now stands, the Information Management Act designates the Minister herself as primarily responsible for ensuring her Ministry’s compliance with the duty to document decisions,” writes Commissioner McEvoy. “Citizens would find it very surprising that, on its face, the current law makes a Minister responsible for investigating her own conduct.”

The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) supports the Commissioner’s call for government to keep its promise of reforming FIPPA to include a duty to document that provides independent oversight so that citizens can be assured that government is accountable.

“John Horgan has promised FIPPA reform. He has promised that his government will do better,” says Sara Neuert, FIPA’s Executive Director. “The citizens of British Columbia need him to keep that promise. Including the duty to document in the FIPPA will build public trust by providing independent oversight.”

“The accusations of the whistleblower demonstrate that this isn’t happening fast enough and that we require timelines to ensure that John Horgan is keeping his promise. The time for action is now.” says Neuert.

Contact:

Sara Neuert, Executive Director

BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Email: fipa (at) fipa.bc.ca

Phone: 604-739-9788

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On the podcast: The History of FIPPA (Part 2)

This episode continues our story on the history of BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act by exploring what’s gone wrong since the Act was passed.

We begin in the year 1996, when a new NDP government under Premier Glen Clark is taking office in BC. You’ll hear about why former Premier Clark limited the budget for the administration of the Act and how court decisions weakened the Act’s original spirit and intent.

Then, we’ll take a look at some legislative amendments that could help realign the Act with its original spirit and intent. This episode features more interviews with all of the experts featured in the first episode, including FIPA co-founders, former and current BC Information and Privacy Commissioners, and many more.

NDP celebrates Liberal’s ineffective ‘Duty to document’

Image of Jinny Sims courtesy of BC NDP and used under CC-by-2.0

Vancouver, April 1, 2019A statement released yesterday by the Ministry of Citizens’ Services, which claims that “new legislative changes improve transparency and accountability for British Columbians,” is a significant misrepresentation of an effective duty to document and is a distraction from the pressing reforms that are necessary for BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

Creating a legislated duty to document within FIPPA has been called for by an all-party Special Legislative Committee that reviewed the Act in 2016, and by Information and Privacy Commissioners David Loukidelis and Elizabeth Denham.

These “new” legislative changes that NDP Minister Jinny Sims is promoting were actually initiated by the Liberal party in 2017. At that time, FIPA issued a press release that called the Liberal bill “a sad excuse for action on creating a duty to document government decisions” in the wake of the Triple Delete scandal that revealed an organized campaign to destroy government records.

In fact, the NDP put forward a private member’s bill at that time that proposed an actual duty to document in comparison to the Liberal’s ineffective bill.

In a statement issued by the Ministry of Finance in 2017, Liberal Minister Michael de Jong had claimed that their ineffective bill would “formalize this good practice in legislation while ensuring that British Columbia remains at the forefront of information management with strong oversight and consistent practice across government.”

Now, two years later, NDP Minister Jinny Sims is claiming that the same ineffective legislative change also “formalizes government’s obligation to document decisions and helps ensure records of decisions are available and accessible.”

The statements from the NDP and Liberal MLAs, made two years apart, are remarkably similar and entirely misleading. FIPA wants to see the creation of a meaningful duty to document—more in line with what the NDP was proposing two years ago—which would include:

  • The creation of mandatory documentation procedures. A discretionary duty to document is not sufficient.
  • Clear oversight from the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
  • The legislative change should be to the FIPPA, which affects over 2,900 public bodies, not the Information Management Act, which merely affects 41.

Contact:

Sara Neuert, Executive Director

BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Email: fipa (at) fipa.bc.ca

Phone: 604-739-9788

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On the podcast: The History of FIPPA

On this episode of the show, we go back to a time before British Columbia had freedom of information or privacy laws—to the year 1990—and find out what it was like to request information from government.

Then, we find out how a small group of dedicated individuals were able to advocate, draft, and ultimately bring about B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, bringing this province one step closer to the ideal of open government.

We’ll hear about how the new legislation offered the promise of greater government transparency and accountability, and about what’s transpired in the nearly thirty years since the Act was passed.

Guests on this episode include: FIPA co-founder Darrell Evans, FIPA co-founder and former Information and Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis, current Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy, former Attorney General Colin Gableman, former MLA Barry Jones, current MP Murray Rankin, and the Vancouver Sun’s legislative reporter Vaughn Palmer.