As the Government of British Columbia takes steps to further obstruct public access to information, Sierra Legal has won an important battle in its four-year fight to ensure that the Ministry of Environment does not cover up the identities—and emissions—of the province’s worst polluters.
The Office of BC’s Information and Privacy Commissioner has ruled that the Ministry’s levying of a $172,947.50 fee in exchange for information on BC’s worst polluters is unreasonable. The Commissioner’s office also overturned the Ministry’s denial of Sierra Legal’s request for a public interest fee waiver.
The Commissioner’s Office notes that the Ministry did not even examine the requested records before refusing to waive the fee. After the BC Liberals assumed power in 2001, they cancelled the longstanding practice of publishing environmental “non-compliance” lists. Five of the ten largest corporate donors to the BC Liberals’ 2001 election campaign had been on non-compliance lists.
In its April 10 ruling, the Commissioner’s Office ordered the Ministry to recalculate the fee and to re-consider the fee waiver request “on a demonstrably proper and reasonable basis” within 30 days.
“We have fought for years simply for the right to know which companies are breaking laws that protect public health and the environment,” said Sierra Legal lawyer Randy Christensen. “It has been clear from day one that the BC Government will disregard public access and environmental laws to protect polluters.”
The ruling came a week before the government announced planned amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Critics say that the draft legislation ignores the main recommendations of the all-party Special Committee from 2004 to lift the lid on unnecessary government secrecy.