Response from BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Assocation (FIPA) on the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) of BC’s special report “Now is the Time: A report card on government’s access to information timeliness”

Vancouver, September 2, 2020 – FIPA is encouraged by the report but discouraged by the climate that gave rise to it. The fact that public bodies have been consistently violating the law is deeply concerning and FIPA urges the BC Government to take this report seriously.  

 “The NDP ran on a platform favouring stronger FOI law in 2017. We haven’t seen them follow through on those commitments in a meaningful way.” according to Jason Woywada Executive Director of BC FIPA . “This report is just the latest evidence, built on years of recognition of systemic delays in BC’s FOI system. FIPA has repeatedly emphasized that ‘access delayed is access denied’ and we hope this report will encourage this government to finally act.” 

“The current pandemic has underscored the vital importance of ensuring timely and accurate access to information. Transparency is not optional in a democracy – it is essential,” adds Mike Larsen, BC FIPA President.  

A transparency system can only be considered functional if it provides members of the public with timely access to the information that they need to participate in the democratic process and to hold public bodies to account. Too often in BC (and Canada), we have seen breakdowns in transparency caused by governments’ failure to adequately resource FOI/ATI offices. When these offices are unable to meet the timelines established by law, the public’s right to know inevitably suffers. Timeliness can be improved, and rights respected when public bodies commit to the prompt and routine proactive release of categories of records of public interest. Transparency should be the default – not a struggle – and this requires deliberate and consistent action to improve the proactive disclosure of records. In 2017, the NDP echoed these sentiments in response to a FIPA questionnaire on transparency and privacy priorities heading into the provincial election. 

FIPA agrees with all of the OIPC’s recommendations but emphasizes that, in addition to taking steps to improve compliance and efficiency, BC’s key piece of transparency legislation – the FIPPA – needs reform. Policy and compliance changes are an important part of this process, but law reform is paramount.  

At a minimum, we expect all public bodies to follow the law, and to comply with all of their responsibilities under FIPPA. This means creating and updating systems and providing the resources necessary for public bodies to accurately and efficiently respond to public FOI requests.  

BC FIPA has been and continues to call for comprehensive reform to FIPPA, which has been echoed by past Special Legislative Committee reports and by the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC.