are a number of things that I think we do need to do to
reinvigorate our public institutions, to re-establish trust
in our public institutions. Freedom of information is really
one of the easier ones. It's direct; it's simple. It says
simply: make information available when people request it,
as opposed to trying to stop them and sending them large
bills to get the simplest information."
Gordon Campbell, Hansard, July 22, 1998
Second Annual BC Information Summit held on October 5th,
Ilich, the Minister responsible for the Freedom of
Information and Protection of Privacy Act, announced
that the government will proceed with Bill
25 in the fall sitting of the Legislature, which will
commence on October 15th. The Bill makes amendments to the
Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act
but, in the form Bill 25 was first introduced in the Legislature,
it failed to correct a major problem with section 13 of
the Act. Hopes are high, including the hopes of Freedom
of Information and Protection of Privacy Commissioner David
Loukidelis, that the Campbell government will address this.
problem with section 13 is due to a December 2, 2002, B.C.
Court of Appeal decision in the "Dr. Doe case"
- or College
of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia v. British
Columbia (Information and Privacy Commissioner).
Two paragraphs, numbers 110 and 111 of that decision, are
particularly important; that's where the Court essentially
stated that the word "advice", used in section
13 of the Act, should be given broad interpretation
so as to include factual material. Since that decision
was rendered government has frequently used section 13 as
an excuse for not providing information, e.g.
blanking out 14 of 15 pages in a request for information
about BC Place Stadium's roof. A government that is
open would have promptly amended the Act so as deal
with what Commissioner Loukidelis described as "the
Court of Appeal's crabbed view of public access to information
rights". Government backbencher Blair Lekstrom chaired
Committee which echoed the Commissioner's concerns and
recommended that the Act be amended to correct the
remarks to the Information Summit, Minister Ilich didn't
say whether the section 13 problem would be corrected, and
she left shortly after her speech. Colin Gablemann, former
BC Attorney General, who was responsible for introducing
the Act 15 years ago, spoke next. Gablemann made
his remarks available (click
here) so they can be considered by a wider audience.
In a nonpartisan spirit, he pointed out that erosion of
the Commissioner's budget began under an NDP government
in 1998; the Campbell government made the situation worse
with its cuts. In addition to recommending that section
13 be amended, Gablemann spoke about the problem with the
culture within government.
an MLA when the Act was introduced. I'll never forget
a briefing we received where those responsible for working
on the Act said it would lead to a change in attitude
throughout the public service so information would be freely
available and resort to the use of the Act would
be unnecessary. The exact opposite has happened. Frequently,
the response to a request for information is to be told:
"FOI it". Then the games begin, with lengthy delays
followed by the receipt of pages of blanked out paragraphs
stamped with the section of the Act, frequently section
13, which is used as authority for denying access to information.
13 needs to be fixed, but even more importantly government
needs to adopt a culture of openness. Premier Campbell should
follow the advice of Opposition Leader Campbell, who spoke
so eloquently about access to information in 1998.