February 23, 2018 12:16 am
Updated: February 23, 2018 12:34 am

Transparency advocates tell BC NDP to hurry up on access to information reform

Transparency advocates say the BC NDP is dragging its heels on reforming access to information rules.

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Transparancy advocates are calling on the B.C. government to make major changes to the province’s freedom of information rules.

The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (BCFIPA) has sent a letter to Premier John Horgan asking him for changes to provincial legislation governing public access to government records.

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Reforming freedom of information (FOI) rules was a key NDP promise in the 2017 election campaign, but more than six months into the job, the party has not tabled legislation on the matter.

READ MORE: Privacy watchdog slams BC Liberals on information requests delays

In the letter, the group argues that B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act “was groundbreaking for the early 1990s, (when it was brought in by the NDP government of Mike Harcourt), [but] it has become outdated and is in need of serious reform.”

WATCH: How BC gov’t’s attitude on freedom of information affects people

The letter calls for a legal requirement for government agencies to document decisions, a crack down on the use of exceptions to block the release of information and for more public bodies — such as schools — to be made subject to the rules.

“It is our view that work must begin immediately on updating the Act,” states the letter.

While FOI rules can seem obscure to the general public, BCFIPA executive director Vincent Gogolek said action is urgently needed because the act is crucial to holding government officials to account.

“If we are not able to get the information that we have the right to receive from government, especially in a timely fashion, it becomes difficult to be able to say what the government is doing right or wrong or know exactly why they ended up doing it,” Gogolek said.

WATCH: Former B.C. government staffer alleges sensitive documents destroyed

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The NDP were quick to attack the former BC Liberal government issues of government transparency — particularly during the so-called “triple delete” scandal, in which the government was accused of intentionally deleting sensitive records.

A scathing report from B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner later found repeated cases of negligent searches for records, a failure to keep adequate email records, a failure to document searches and the willful destruction of records.

READ MORE: Special prosecutor assigned following B.C. Privacy Commissioner’s scathing report

BCFIPA’s letter states that advocates are now “puzzled” as to why, once in power, the NDP has failed to reform the system.

Gogolek said action is needed to ensure that going forward, government records are maintained and available to the public.

“One of the problems we’ve had under ‘triple-delete‘ under the previous government is that records are either not kept, or are destroyed,” he said.

Along with BCFIPA, the letter is signed by Michael Vonn, policy director with the BC Civil Liberties Association, BC Teachers Federation president Glen Hansman and Nick Taylor-Vaisey, national director for the Canadian Association of Journalists.

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