British Columbia Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on April 25, 2019. A report released today by British Columbia’s information and privacy commissioner says the government is routinely undermining peoples’ information rights by delaying responses to requests for information. Michael McEvoy says the government routinely extends the timelines for responses to information access requests without legal authority. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

British Columbia Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on April 25, 2019. A report released today by British Columbia’s information and privacy commissioner says the government is routinely undermining peoples’ information rights by delaying responses to requests for information. Michael McEvoy says the government routinely extends the timelines for responses to information access requests without legal authority. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

B.C. government undermines information rights: privacy commissioner

B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act sets 30 business days for the government to respond to information requests

The B.C. government routinely undermines the rights of its citizens by delaying requests for information, says a report by the information and privacy commissioner.

The extension of timelines by the government for responses to access to information requests is being done without legal authority and could impair the public’s trust in the system, Michael McEvoy said.

“Government has chosen to ignore the rules,” he said in an interview. “They’ve chosen to ignore the law and they simply extended the time period themselves. It’s going to result in the public losing confidence in the system if it continues.”

B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act sets 30 business days for the government to respond to information requests, which can be extended another 30 days, but extensions past that need approval from the commissioner.

“When they take more than 60 days, they need to have a good reason for that and they need to come to our office for permission to extend the time period beyond 60 days,” he said.

The report examined the government’s timeliness on access requests from April 2017 to March 2020.

McEvoy said his office reviewed 4,000 cases where the government extended the time for response without the legal right under the privacy act.

“We can only hold our governments accountable if we can understand what they are doing,” he said. “The only way we can understand, or one of the main ways we can understand what they are doing, is through access to information requests. The system has to be strong and it has to be responsive.”

The report recommends:

  • An increase in the monitoring of time extensions.
  • Expanding efforts to publicly release more information and records.
  • Giving bureaucrats more authority to sign off on information requests.
  • Exploring the use of automation services to release records.

McEvoy said the report acknowledges there has been an increase in requests for information, but that doesn’t absolve the government from its legal requirement to provide timely information. He said the report found some positive results related to improving request response times since September 2017.

Citizens’ Services Minister Anne Kang, who is responsible for government information services, said in a statement that progress is being made in fulfilling access to information requests.

“This effort is critical, as many people depend on freedom of information, including business owners, lawyers, academics, members of the media and professionals in the non-profit sector,” said Kang. “I am proud to see our rate of compliance during the period covered in this report is the highest it’s been in years, even though we received 40 per cent more requests during the same time period.”

She said the government completed 10,706 access to information requests on time in 2019-20.

McEvoy said the problem has spanned different governments.

“It’s really important that the culture change,” he said. “It’s not acceptable and undermines public confidence in the system where government is not respecting the rules that have been set out in law.”

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

BC government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The regional jobs picture has improved. (Innovate Impact Media/Creative Commons photo)
Northwest unemployment rate dips again

Is now second lowest of any region in B.C.

Cedar Valley Lodge, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the LNG Canada Project site in Kitimat. The most recent outbreak among workers at the project site was just declared over. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Second COVID-19 outbreak at LNG Canada Project site declared over

The outbreak was first declared on Dec. 16, 2020

The first of two massive turbines headed from Prince Rupert for the Site C Dam near Fort St. John on Jan 10. (Photo: Supplied by Tasha McKenzie)
Massive turbines begin trek across Northwestern B.C.

Turbines headed from Prince Rupert to Site C Dam to cause traffic delays week of Jan. 10 to 14

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

Williams Lake physician Dr. Ivan Scrooby and medical graduate student Vionarica Gusti hold up the COSMIC Bubble Helmet. Both are part of the non-profit organization COSMIC Medical which has come together to develop devices for treating patients with COVID-19. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Group of B.C. doctors, engineers developing ‘bubble helmet’ for COVID-19 patients

The helmet could support several patients at once, says the group

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)

Most Read