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 District of Stewart has adopted a strategic plan for 2020/21 with six focus areas. (District of Stewart/Facebook)
Stewart adopts 2020 strategic plan

Economy, community areas of focus

Kendra Willems, seen here Nov. 5, created a Facebook page to help facilitate social supports such as clothing donations in an informal manner that supplements existing supports and charities. (Jake Wray/Terrace Standard)
Skeena Voices | ‘We could all use that kind of goodness’

Kendra Willems, new to Terrace, founds charitable Facebook page

Firefighters work to cool a semi truck engine that caught fire at the corner of Eby St. and Hwy 16 around 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 26
Semi truck engine catches fire in Terrace

Hwy 16 briefly closed between Sande Overpass and Eby St.

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross at his swearing in on Thursday (Nov. 26), with his wife, Tracey, left, mother, Frieda, and grandson, Parker. (Ellis Ross photo)
Ellis Ross sworn in as Skeena MLA

Ceremonies happening virtually rather than all in-person in Victoria

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks along the seawall in North Vancouver Wednesday, November 25, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
911 new COVID-19 cases, 11 deaths as B.C. sees deadliest week since pandemic began

Hospitalizations reach more than 300 across the province

More than 60 cm of snow has fallen at Ulkatcho First Nation near Anahim Lake in the Chilcotin since a snowfall warning went into effect Thursday, Nov. 26. (Graham West photo)
VIDEO: More than 60 cm of snowfall in Chilcotin since Thursday, Nov. 26

Graham West of Ulkatcho First Nation captures the scene on video

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Gold medallists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Olympic champions Virtue, Moir and Tewksbury among 114 Order of Canada inductees

Moir and Virtue catapulted to national stardom with their gold-medal performances at the Winter Olympics in 2018

Shoppers line up in front of a shop on Montreal’s Saint-Catherine Street in search of Black Friday deals in Montreal, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Black Friday shopping in a pandemic: COVID-19 closes some stores, sales move online

Eric Morris, head of retail at Google Canada, says e-commerce in Canada has doubled during the pandemic.

School District 27 announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 this week (Nov. 23) at Lake City Secondary School Williams Lake campus. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Entire gym class at northern B.C. high school isolating after confirmed COVID case

Contact tracing by Interior Health led to the quarantine

Most Read