Accessing information: the continuing quest to release public documents


In our October newsletter, we told you about the ELC’s work to improve information and privacy law in BC. On behalf of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, we just took this work a step further.

The public needs access to information to protect public health, the environment and to keep government accountable. While laws have changed and government has received guidance from BC’s Information Commissioner as to when documents should be made public, some provincial ministries have yet to change their procedures. Citizens seeking public interest information from some government departments continue to be met with demands to file FOI requests or denied access when, in fact, the information they need should be released.

To fix this problem, the ELC is asking the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner to conduct a systemic study on why particular ministries are not proactively releasing key environmental orders, permits, contravention decisions and policy manuals. We are also recommending legal and policy reforms to ensure such documents are posted online.

The ELC hasn’t been alone in asking the BC government to make important environmental records available to the public. The Information and Privacy Commissioner, the Ombudsperson, the Forest Practices Board and the Auditor General have all made the similar recommendations. But the practice of withholding documents continues.

As an example of the problem, there are only two sites in the province where orders under the Environment Management Act (EMA) are being proactively released. One has been in active litigation and the other disclosure only occurred after the ELC petitioned the Information Commissioner, who made a finding that release of key documents was in the public interest.

Although there is clear direction about the requirement to release documents to the public, the message isn’t getting through. Hopefully, this new request will help move things in the right direction.

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