The BC government is asking for an unprecedented amount of money to hand over – what should be public – information on BC’s top corporate polluters, in a notice sent to Sierra Legal Defence Fund last Wednesday. Sierra Legal is fighting the government’s demand for $172,947.50 to release the information, by initiating an Inquiry before BC’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.
Non-compliance information on corporate polluters had been available to the public in BC up until 2001. In a letter obtained by Sierra Legal, the premier as leader of the opposition in 1998 lashed out at the government of the day saying they had “abandoned their commitment to open government” and stated that, “information rights are meaningless…if fees become an obstacle to access.” But the current premier’s government stopped releasing non-compliance reports altogether after August 2001, less than 4 months after assuming power, creating even more fees and obstacles.
“It is absurd for the BC government to demand such an exorbitant sum of money to find out the identities of polluters breaking the law,” said Sierra Legal Staff Lawyer Randy Christensen. “Instead of protecting the public interest, the provincial government is protecting polluters.” Sierra Legal’s ongoing research shows that five of the ten largest corporate donors to the BC Liberals in 2001 had been on recent non-compliance lists.
Sierra Legal is concerned about the potential threat to health and environmental safety that could result from hiding this information from British Columbians. When the Ontario government stopped publishing non-compliance reports in the mid-1990s, violations spiralled out of control and the Walkerton tragedy occurred. Today the Ontario government not only publicizes non-compliance information, but makes it available to the public online with no fees. The BC government website offers no such option and data is not readily available at all.
“This arrogant behaviour by our provincial government trashes the public’s right to know,” said Christensen. “We’re demanding the government of BC step up to the plate, and like Ontario, offer the information to the public at no charge, on its website for all to see.”
The FOI Commissioner will be accepting submissions commencing the Inquiry proceeding into this matter on March 21, 2006 after which a decision will be issued.