British Columbia

B.C. government gets an F in freedom of information audit

An organization representing Canada's newspapers says the B.C. government is failing to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests in a timely manner.

Average response time to request days longer than 'national standard'

The B.C.'s government scored an 'F' on its ability to quickly respond to public requests for information, according to Newspapers Canada. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

An organization representing Canada's newspapers says the B.C. government is failing to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests in a timely manner. 

"They're basically operating outside of both the spirit and the letter of the law," said Fred Vallance-Jones a project leader with Newspapers Canada's audit.

The audit was taken before the office of the B.C. privacy commissioner released its own report into the provincial government's practice of deleting emails.

The report states: "British Columbia, with its 30-business-day legal standard, received an F for speed of responses and a B for completeness of disclosure."

It's one of only three provinces in the country to score so low, with an average time between request and fulfillment of 32 days. That's two days longer than national standard according to Newspapers Canada.

"We run into naturally to-be-expected foot-dragging before things that are considered to be the dirty laundry of the government are allowed out," said Vallance-Jones.

Just last week, B.C.'s privacy commissioner released a report that revealed several government workers, including the premier's deputy chief of staff, had deleted emails raising troubling questions about laws protecting the public's right to hold politicians accountable for their actions.

Commitment to openness

British Columbia, with its 30-business-day legal standard, received an F for speed of responses and a B for completeness of disclosure.- Newspapers Canada 2015 FOI audit

"You need to have a commitment to openness, a commitment to true transparency that comes right from the top of the government, otherwise I suppose it doesn't really matter what the law says," said Vallance-Jones.

And law-breaking can be difficult to uncover when it comes to freedom of information requests.

"It takes an investigation such as the one we saw from the information commissioner, which was a very technically sophisticated investigation," said Vallance-Jones.

The report into the B.C. government's deleted emails recommended a number of measures to address the situation  — among them, records-management training for all employees as well as the independent oversight of information management rules. 

It also said the government needs to introduce sanctions when those requirements are not met.


To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: Newspapers Canada gives B.C. government a failing grade on F.O.I requests.

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