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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Update on Whistleblower Legislation

Last November, we published Carroll Anne Boydell’s analysis of BC’s new whistleblower legislation – the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) – and how it compares to international best practice standards. The study, which is currently available to download from our website, examines different legislations containing protections for whistleblowers who disclose wrongdoing in the province and determines how well they follow best practice principles.

Click here for a free download of the document.

Meet Sylvie Therrien, Whistleblower Extraordinaire

We are very pleased to welcome award-winning whistleblower Sylvie Therrien as our guest speaker at FIPA’s 2014 Annual General Meeting.

In a culture where roadblocks to freedom of information are becoming all the more common, whistleblowing is an essential part of keeping government transparent and holding decision-makers accountable. Whistleblowers have recently come under threat in BC’s proposed Animal Health Act, Bill 19, which imposes a lifetime gag on a large number of people involved in monitoring animal health, threatening them with jail time and fines.

The importance of being able to blow the whistle, and of protecting those who do, is something Sylvie Therrien has very special knowledge of. She is a former Integrity Services Investigator for Employment Insurance for Services Canada, who leaked documents showing that the Harper Government was trying to find ‘savings’ from the EI funds by creating quotas for EI fraud. Each investigator was required to identify $485,000 in Employment Insurance fraud per year. However these quotas could only be met by manipulating the facts and looking for ways to deny benefits.

After raising her concerns with her superiors to no avail, she went to the media to publicly denounce a system which was operating against the public interest. Ms. Therrien was suspended without pay in May 2013, and was dismissed in October.

Ms Therrien recently received the 2014 National Golden Whistle Award from POGG Canada and Canadians for Accountability. The award is presented annually to honour an individual for integrity, courage, resolve in the service of peace, order and good government.

The AGM will be held on Wednesday April 23, 2014 at 7pm

Venue: YWCA, 4th floor, 535 Hornby Street, Vancouver [map]

Doors open at 6:30 pm for registration and membership renewal. For more information, or to submit a form of proxy, call 604-739-9788. To renew your membership through our secure online form, click here: https://www.gifttool.com/donations/Donate?ID=1552&AID=40

Download the AGM announcement