BC Government says the magic word and documents disappear

What do you do when you want to make sure documents can’t be requested under freedom of information law? Well if you’re the BC Government, you need only utter one magic word: transitory.

Government policy states that a transitory record is one that relates to “temporary usefulness […] needed only for a limited period of time in order to complete a routine action or prepare an ongoing record” and such documents can be deleted.

However government officials have been taking a much more expansive interpretation of the meaning of the word, which may be one of the reasons that one in five BC FOI requests comes back with no records.

This disappearing act has been documented on the BC government’s Open Information website. In one apparently unsuccessful attempt to wipe the record, a senior bureaucrat instructs other officials (in red letters to emphasize the point) “…please delete all drafts of the materials and e?mail correspondence should be treated as transitory.”

But ‘transitory’ doesn’t mean whatever the government decides it should mean. In her 2013 report, Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham identified the misuse of the definition of ‘transitory’ as one cause of the disappearance of records, contributing to the scandalous rise in the number of FOI requests that came back with ‘no responsive records.’

Our experience with the Ministry of Health bears this out. A series of damning e mails about the Burnaby Hospital Consultative committee were leaked to the NDP last year, including one sent to former Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid on her private e mail account, in violation of the law.

Expecting that the email should now have been put into the public record, we requested a copy, however the Ministry could not come up with the correspondence. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner was told that the record had been deleted as because it was ‘transitory’.

Having seen a copy of the original email, we’re struggling to see what possible interpretation of ‘transitory’ could have been used to justify its deletion. The government is clearly abusing their own policies and even the English language to keep information from being released.

FIPA Bulletin – June 2013

In this issue:

  • BC Election: It’s time to double down on info rights
  • BC Election Act causes confusion, chills free speech — again
  • Major data security issues bedevil the Federal Government
  • A National ID Card by Stealth?
  • Fighting for a fair deal: FIPA continues to oppose Trans-Pacific Partnership
  • FIPA is hiring! Join the team
  • Access in the Academy: FIPA to launch new ATI/FOI resource for researchers

Download the bulletin (pdf).

FIPA Bulletin – December 2012

In this issue:

  • Big Wins, New Challenges: 2012 in Transparency
  • A new year means new ways to support FIPA
  • Privacy advocates raise red flags over C-12 surveillance measures
  • New parliamentary study tackles big data, social media, and privacy
  • Information Commissioner looks to overhaul Access to Information Act
  • BC Commish tries to limit license plate surveillance system
  • FIPA joins coalition against secretive trade deal
  • Upcoming event: Protecting Consitituent Privacy – Where to Start?

Download the bulletin.

FIPA Bulletin – October 2012

In this issue:

  • 2012 BC Informatiion Summit tackles “Government 2.0”
  • Just Rewards: Darrell Evans awarded Grace-Pépin Access to Information Award
  • OIPC to investigate government’s failure to post FOI requests after FIPA complaint
  • BC election law still has constitutional problems despite BC Court of Appeal ruling
  • Lock Down: wall of secrecy around Ministry of Health privacy breach slams door shut on freedom of information.
  • Provincial FOI performance plummets over last decade
  • Troubled integrated case management system “stable and secure” – Minister
  • FIPA + Huffington Post BC
  • FIPA at Media Democracy Days

Download the bulletin.