Whistleblower Accusations Highlight Need for Legislative Reform

Vancouver, May 17, 2019 – Question period in the BC Legislature this week has been occupied by the accusations of a whistleblower who claims that the Minister of Citizens’ Services, Jinny Sims, has been using her personal email address to conduct government business in order to circumvent Freedom of Information laws.

This is particularly troublesome as Minister Sims oversees the administration of those very laws and made a public apology only one year ago for a similar indiscretion.

During question period this week, Attorney General David Eby stated that the Office of the Information and Privacy (OIPC) Commissioner was the correct place to investigate accusations of this nature.

However, a statement today from the OIPC indicates that they are unable to investigate these claims.

“The Minister’s alleged failure to fulfill her duty to document is not a matter under my authority,” writes Commissioner Michael McEvoy of the OIPC. “This is a significant shortcoming of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).”

Legislative changes that recently came into effect, which Minister Sims characterized as a duty to document, give Minister Sims—not the OIPC—the authority to ensure compliance.

“As it now stands, the Information Management Act designates the Minister herself as primarily responsible for ensuring her Ministry’s compliance with the duty to document decisions,” writes Commissioner McEvoy. “Citizens would find it very surprising that, on its face, the current law makes a Minister responsible for investigating her own conduct.”

The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) supports the Commissioner’s call for government to keep its promise of reforming FIPPA to include a duty to document that provides independent oversight so that citizens can be assured that government is accountable.

“John Horgan has promised FIPPA reform. He has promised that his government will do better,” says Sara Neuert, FIPA’s Executive Director. “The citizens of British Columbia need him to keep that promise. Including the duty to document in the FIPPA will build public trust by providing independent oversight.”

“The accusations of the whistleblower demonstrate that this isn’t happening fast enough and that we require timelines to ensure that John Horgan is keeping his promise. The time for action is now.” says Neuert.

Contact:

Sara Neuert, Executive Director

BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Email: fipa (at) fipa.bc.ca

Phone: 604-739-9788

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On the podcast: The History of FIPPA (Part 2)

This episode continues our story on the history of BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act by exploring what’s gone wrong since the Act was passed.

We begin in the year 1996, when a new NDP government under Premier Glen Clark is taking office in BC. You’ll hear about why former Premier Clark limited the budget for the administration of the Act and how court decisions weakened the Act’s original spirit and intent.

Then, we’ll take a look at some legislative amendments that could help realign the Act with its original spirit and intent. This episode features more interviews with all of the experts featured in the first episode, including FIPA co-founders, former and current BC Information and Privacy Commissioners, and many more.

A step towards accountability

Media Release

A small step towards open and transparent government

Vancouver, February 5, 2019 – The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association is pleased with the recommendations made by the province’s top watchdogs to bring the Legislative Assembly of B.C. under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

Signed by Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy, Merit Commissioner Fiona Spencer, and Ombudsperson Jay Chalke, the recommendations called for the Legislature to “meet the same standards” that 2,900 other provincial public bodies are subject to. 

While opening the Legislature to freedom of information rules is a welcome sight, the move is ultimately just one of the steps to a full reform that FIPA has been calling for in the past two decades. “This is just one little piece of the puzzle and there’s a whole lot of reform that we’re trying to get,” says Executive Director Sara Neuert. “We continue to be in reactionary mode and we need to move a step further and be proactive.”

These recommendations will only act to prevent the exact same scandal from repeating itself, more effective change would address a broader scale of freedom of information reform.

The Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) drafted in May of 2016 has made calls for a comprehensive reform, which would include the enactment of a Duty to Document, penalties for interference, and addressing the exceptions and loopholes that can be routinely exploited during any FOI proceedings.

These comprehensive reforms are the only measures that will provide government transparency and establish a system of accountability that will prevent future government scandals from occurring.

Contact:

Sara Neuert, Executive Director

BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Email: fipa (at) fipa.bc.ca

Phone: 604-739-9788

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Scandal at Legislative Assembly demonstrates need for Law Reform

Media Release

Scandal at Legislative Assembly demonstrates need for Law Reform

Vancouver, January 24, 2019 – The need for reforming British Columbia’s outdated Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) is evidenced by the recent scandal concerning misconduct and lack of oversight at B.C.’s Legislative Assembly.

Allegations made by house speaker Darryl Plecas reflect the ‘black holes’ that exist in the transparency of government bodies, such as the legislature and office of the parliamentarians.

“The Legislative Assembly is outside the jurisdiction of freedom of information requests,” says Sara Neuert, executive director of BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. “It’s a shortcoming of government transparency and accountability. We would have learned of this sooner had we been able to place legislature offices under scrutiny.”

Sweeping amendments to the FIPPA have been repeatedly put forward by FIPA over the past 15-years. Recommendations for change were also presented in the last Special Legislative Committee report published in May 2016 – echoing the calls for additions such as mandating a ‘duty to document’ and administering real repercussions to government officials who impede the FOI process. So far, the current government has made several commitments to advancing reform, though steps leading towards actual change have yet to arrive.

Bringing legislature offices under the dominion of FOI laws is not an impossibility and can be enacted rather swiftly. While doing so would be a welcome step towards modernizing the province’s FOI laws, it would ultimately be just a step. What the province truly needs – and has needed for years – are comprehensive reforms, only then can the government be held accountable by the taxpaying public. 

Contact:

Sara Neuert, Executive Director

BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Email: fipa (at) fipa.bc.ca

Phone: 604-739-9788

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