By Irwin Loy
A prominent environmental advocacy group is claiming victory in a four-year battle to make B.C.’s Ministry of Environment cough up data on industry pollution. The office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has ruled the ministry as “unreasonable” in demanding a $173,000 fee to gather the information.
Sierra Legal had first asked for the data under Freedom of Information legislation in 2003, with the intention of turning it into a report on the province’s worst polluters. That information was publicly available until the province stopped publishing its non- compliance lists in late 2000.
“I think it’s clear the public deserves to know if companies are violating air- and water-quality standards,” said Sierra Legal lawyer Randy Christensen.
The Environment Ministry now has 30 days to recalculate the cost of gathering the information, although Sierra Legal is arguing that the entire fee should be waived.
For access to information advocate Darrell Evans, requesting a six-figure fee is a common tactic employed by the province.
“The fees become an obstacle to access,” said Evans, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. “It’s just a pattern of absolute secrecy. They won’t give you anything Without a fight if they feel it could be used against them.”
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