On November 25th, the BC Government introduced late stage amendments to Bill 22 Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) 2021 which will need to be reviewed. On the same day they invoked closure to ram Bill 22 through the legislature and into law without further debate or consideration.
Bill 22 is extraordinary for all the wrong reasons.
The inspiration is extraordinary because it reflects nothing that anyone - including this government - was ever asking for. Few recommendations from the 2010, or 2016 Special Legislative Committees to Review FIPPA were implemented. Civil society spoke out against this Bill. The independent Information and Privacy Commissioner was critical of Bill 22. Colin Gabelman, the Attorney General who first introduced FIPPA, sees it as a step backwards. It does not even reflect the commitments Government members made in 2016, 2017 and 2019.
The process was extraordinary because it put the cart before the horse. As recent FOI requests revealed, after deciding on the changes in Cabinet in March, the public engagement process was not only an illusion but based on surveys rife with leading questions. The Ministry failed to table an annual report on the FIPPA for two years, despite this being a requirement under the current Act. Bill 22 created an end-run around the Special Legislative Committee to Review FIPPA. There were inadequate responses to direct questions in the legislature. Government ignored the concerns of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. Government ultimately used a motion to close debate and ram through the bill.
The impact is likewise extraordinary - both for what it removes and for the new barriers it creates. Bill 22 erases one of British Columbia’s strongest protections to your personal information by getting rid of data residency requirements. It attempts to shield the Premier’s Office and executive council from legitimate scrutiny. It parks key content behind regulations to be drafted in shadows. It does nothing to close gaps, increase timeliness, or improve proactive disclosure and public interest disclosure.
What Bill 22 succeeded to do was catapult government transparency and accountability into the spotlight. It proved that government accountability and transparency transcend party lines, and that these are key public policy issues for a diverse cross-section of British Columbians.
We need to hear about the effects of these changes. FIPA worked with a diverse and inspiring coalition in our Transparency Matters efforts to oppose Bill 22. We will continue to connect with this coalition as we take stock of the implications of the legislation. We also welcome input from other parties affected by this step backwards.
Eyes are now on the current Special Legislative Committee to Review FIPPA. Government has responded to criticism by saying that it respects the role and work of the Special Legislative Committee to Review FIPPA. If this is the case, the Committee needs to receive clear and compelling submissions from a diverse group of engaged people.
We need to reiterate why Bill 22 is a step backwards for government accountability and transparency. We also need to underscore the changes that must be made in order to create an Act that will return BC to national leaders in transparency rather than mediocre at best.
FIPA will participate actively and openly in this process, and we offer our assistance to other groups.