Posted on January 13, 2010 (updated: January 13, 2010)

Watchdog groups give BC government a failing grade on freedom of information

The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association was joined by four other public interest groups today as it released a report taking the BC government to task for failing to live up to its “New Era” promise to deliver open and accountable government.

The FIPA report is a preview of a major study to be released later in 2005, which will detail steps the BC government has taken to undermine the freedom of information act and re-assert strict government control over access to information.

Groups represented at the news conference included the BC Civil Liberties Association, Sierra Legal Defence Fund, Canadian Association of Journalists and Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation.

BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPP Act) was passed in 1992. In recent years, there has been a serious decline inthe health of the FOI process, with increasing barriers to timely access to information for many citizens. These problems began with severe budget cuts to FOI administration under the previous
administration, but have worsened under the current administration.

FIPA’s report states, “Over the past 10 years, a government culture has developed that employs every possible tactic to discourage and delay requests for information that it considers in any way ‘sensitive’. The culture of denial has employed a combination of budget and staff cuts, legislative and policy changes, government reorganization, delaying tactics, excessive use of the Act’s exceptions, and the extension of secrecy to additional government committees.”

“We are completely non-partisan,” stated FIPA executive director Darrell Evans, “but we feel it’s vital to get this information out during the election campaign so that the political parties will hopefully put their positions on freedom of information on the public record.”

“The Clark administration was a disaster for freedom of information, but sadly, the current government has been even worse, and we’re extremely disappointed.” continued Evans.

“We were promised “the most open, accountable and democratic government in Canada,” said Devon Page, staff lawyer for Sierra Legal Defence Fund. “Instead, we have suffered through endless delays, lost documents, increased Cabinet secrecy, and political interference.”

A wide range of organizations have had a tough time getting information from the BC government. Sara MacIntyre, BC director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, could not attend the news conference, but issued the following statement:

“It is nearly impossible to hold a government accountable if it fails to disclose information on its procedures, audits or general operations. In the past four years, access to information has been slowly choked off by increasing search fees, expanded response times for requests, and the slashing of the Information Commissioner’s budget.”

“It’s completely disingenuous to commit to the principles of transparency and accountability and then slash the resources of the Legislative officer who is charged with carrying out those principles. The next government in BC should re-affirm its commitment to transparency, restore funding to the Commissioner’s office and immediately cease the practice of tracking so-called “sensitive requests.”

“The business of government is the people’s business,” said Jason Gratl of BC Civil Liberties Association. “In our view, the government should not wait for a specific request to disclose information. They should generally volunteer to disclose records, especially statements of public policy, in which there is a public interest.”

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