This past summer, the country lost a remarkable woman. Gwen Barlee was one of Canada’s most active and effective FOI requesters, a longtime advocate for openness and transparency, and someone who has inspired many young activists to use FOI to gain access to important information.
She was best known for her work as the Policy Director of the Wilderness Committee, but was also a BC FIPA director for more than 10 years most recently as Vice President. In that capacity, she played a vital role in FIPA’s growth. Her ability to use FOI requests to undercover information that governments didn’t want to reveal was legendary both at the provincial and federal levels.
Some examples of her work include:
- Using information obtained through FOI to persuade the BC government to reverse a decision to put pay parking meters in provincial parks.
- She also pressed government into rejecting proposed independent power projects on the Upper Pitt River, in the Fraser Valley, and at Glacier/Howser in the West Kootenays.
- She used information obtained through FOI to have the BC government acknowledge that the health system had failed to diagnose Lyme disease in B.C. patients. She uncovered a BC Health Ministry document that confirmed the government did not know the number of Lyme disease cases in B.C., but did know that affected people were not being treated. Shortly after her research appeared in the media, the BC government announced a new chronic disease clinic that would focus on Lyme disease.
Having contracted Lyme disease many years ago, she was also a great friend and ally of the Lyme community, and has used FOIs to uncover inaccuracies in the provincial government’s testing method for Lyme disease.
Gwen Barlee passed away from cancer in June of this year, and although we will be feeling her loss for a long time, her legacy will last much longer.