Meera Nair

a worthy cause

In Uncategorized on September 23, 2011 at 9:20 pm

BC’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) is marking its twentieth year with a fundraiser dinner on Wednesday, September 28, 2011. Featuring entertainment by Charlie Demers and a raffle with some amazing prizes, it will be an enjoyable evening. Details are available here.

[Full disclosure; I am a member of the Board of Directors for FIPA. Copyright is not the only way that information can be locked up.]

Writing for the Vancouver Courier, Andrew Fleming notes that when the Province of British Columbia enacted the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in 1992, the legislation was considered a “triumph of transparency” and garnered much praise as the most advanced access and privacy legislation in the country. Brought in by the NDP government under then-Premier Mike Harcourt, and strongly supported by the Opposition Liberals under Gordon Campbell, the legislation provided individuals with the means to access government information in a timely and affordable manner.

At last year’s BC Information Summit, Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham gave praise to FIPA’s efforts and made particular mention of the founding-Executive Director’s contribution to the province:

… among the many worthy of recognition, Darrell Evans merits special praise for his commitment over these decades. Public interest advocacy is not for the faint-hearted, the less tenacious or those intent on getting rich. But it is for the fair-minded, and Darrell typifies that fair-mindedness.

Unfortunately, over the last twenty years FIPA has seen the legislation devolve into a means to obfuscate, not facilitate, access to information. This seems to be part of an overall Canadian trend, a decline in the effectiveness of access to information legislation. As the Globe and Mail reported earlier this year, Canada was once seen as a model of modern governance for access to information but now has the dubious distinction as an example of how not to permit access.

A key component of British Columbia’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Act is a periodic review. The last such review was carried out by a special legislative committee in February 2010. In his testimony, Darrell Evans made a compelling point:

The Freedom of Information Act was not meant to be the routine way that the public gets information. Unfortunately, it has become that by default. … Routine disclosure just provides an efficient way of releasing the vast amount of information to the public, depoliticizing it and enriching this society …

At the same meeting, Vince Gogolek (current Executive Director of FIPA) also emphasized that, under the Act, heads of public bodies have a statutory duty to:

… make a reasonable effort to assist applicants and respond without delay.  What is clear is that this statutory duty is not being met and there are no negative consequences for the head of a public body that does not carry out this duty.

As the twentieth year gets under way, we can hope that the advice of both directors might be followed at all levels of government.

FIPA’s advocacy extends to both provincial and federal matters. More information can be found here.

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