OIPC to B.C. Government: Yes, You Can Post Those Embarrassing Reports

In the April issue of the Bulletin, we described our complaint about the B.C. Government’s odd excuse for failing to post two embarrassing reports online: they claimed that they were simply complying with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

In response to our complaint, the Office of the B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) has now confirmed and clarified that FIPPA would not be an impediment – the choice of whether to post rests with government ministers.

The reports in question deal with the mysterious Ministry of Health data breach firings (the McNeil report) and with excessive executive payments at Kwantlen University (the Mingay Report). Both reflect unfavourably on the government and senior officials.

In order to avoid posting the reports, the government had claimed that FIPPA’s section 33.2 prevented them from posting the reports—which contained personal information, and might run counter to the “reputational interests” of public servants or public figures—online, where they would be “accessible” outside Canada.

But now, the OIPC has made it clear: minsters have the power to order such reports to be published on the web, notwithstanding the domestic data storage provisions of the Act. The intention of section 33.2 is not to keep government from being held accountable.

In a news release, FIPA Executive Director Vincent Gogolek stated, “We’re pleased that the Commissioner has undercut the government’s attempt to stretch the Act’s provisions to suit their own PR purposes. If the government doesn’t post these and similar reports, it is because they don’t want them to circulate, not because of any legal prohibition.”

The OIPC has recommended that the Special Legislative Committee currently reviewing FIPPA be made aware of the problematic wording that allowed the B.C. Government to make this claim in the first place. We at FIPA couldn’t agree more and we will definitely being bringing this to the Committee’s attention when we appear this fall.

Read more from the August 2015 Bulletin »