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.
Sara Neuert, Executive Director
BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association
Email: fipa (at) fipa.bc.ca