British Columbia Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on April 25, 2019. A report released today by British Columbia’s information and privacy commissioner says the government is routinely undermining peoples’ information rights by delaying responses to requests for information. Michael McEvoy says the government routinely extends the timelines for responses to information access requests without legal authority. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

B.C. government undermines information rights: privacy commissioner

B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act sets 30 business days for the government to respond to information requests

The B.C. government routinely undermines the rights of its citizens by delaying requests for information, says a report by the information and privacy commissioner.

The extension of timelines by the government for responses to access to information requests is being done without legal authority and could impair the public’s trust in the system, Michael McEvoy said.

“Government has chosen to ignore the rules,” he said in an interview. “They’ve chosen to ignore the law and they simply extended the time period themselves. It’s going to result in the public losing confidence in the system if it continues.”

B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act sets 30 business days for the government to respond to information requests, which can be extended another 30 days, but extensions past that need approval from the commissioner.

“When they take more than 60 days, they need to have a good reason for that and they need to come to our office for permission to extend the time period beyond 60 days,” he said.

The report examined the government’s timeliness on access requests from April 2017 to March 2020.

McEvoy said his office reviewed 4,000 cases where the government extended the time for response without the legal right under the privacy act.

“We can only hold our governments accountable if we can understand what they are doing,” he said. “The only way we can understand, or one of the main ways we can understand what they are doing, is through access to information requests. The system has to be strong and it has to be responsive.”

The report recommends:

  • An increase in the monitoring of time extensions.
  • Expanding efforts to publicly release more information and records.
  • Giving bureaucrats more authority to sign off on information requests.
  • Exploring the use of automation services to release records.

McEvoy said the report acknowledges there has been an increase in requests for information, but that doesn’t absolve the government from its legal requirement to provide timely information. He said the report found some positive results related to improving request response times since September 2017.

Citizens’ Services Minister Anne Kang, who is responsible for government information services, said in a statement that progress is being made in fulfilling access to information requests.

“This effort is critical, as many people depend on freedom of information, including business owners, lawyers, academics, members of the media and professionals in the non-profit sector,” said Kang. “I am proud to see our rate of compliance during the period covered in this report is the highest it’s been in years, even though we received 40 per cent more requests during the same time period.”

She said the government completed 10,706 access to information requests on time in 2019-20.

McEvoy said the problem has spanned different governments.

“It’s really important that the culture change,” he said. “It’s not acceptable and undermines public confidence in the system where government is not respecting the rules that have been set out in law.”

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

BC government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Celebrating 50 years of Rotary in action

The Rotary Club of Ladysmith was formed September 20, 1970

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

Paul Manly reacts to Liberal throne speech

Manly says the Liberals need to back up their promises with action

Island Savings closes Ladysmith branch

Ladysmith branch members can be served by the Chemainus branch

New Chemainus development offers prime building lots in a diverse neighbourhood

Beachwood Estates officially opens with interest already high due to its location

QUIZ: Do you know what’s on TV?

Fall is normally the time when new television shows are released

Canadian ski resorts wrestle with pandemic-vs.-profit dilemma as COVID-19 persists

Few are actually restricting the total number of skiers they allow on the hill

Victoria-area RCMP locate high-risk sex offender thanks to help of taxi cab driver

Scott Jones wanted on a Canada-wide warrant, ‘a risk to women and girls,’ police say

A (virtual) walk around the world by 88-year-old B.C. man

George Doi says it’s simple: ‘I like walking’

End of CERB means uncertainty for some, new system for others

As of a week ago, the CERB had paid out $79.3 billion to 8.8 million people

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Horgan, Wilkinson trade barbs over MSP premiums, health care at campaign stops

Horgan called a snap election for Oct. 24 earlier this week

Most Read