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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Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director
BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association
Email: Vincent (at) fipa.bc.ca