The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has released its report on the extent to which public bodies are meeting the requirements of Section 71 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The text below has been excerpted from that report. There's a link to the report at the bottom of this page.
IT IS OFTEN SAID that information is the oxygen of democracy. To that end, we desperately need a hyperbaric chamber that will boost our access to information systems in a way that improves the accountability of public bodies.
Public institutions work hard to fulfil the legal obligations under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). I also know that, at times, they face challenges in doing so. The recent onset of COVID-19 is one of those challenges. And yet the pandemic itself is a good illustration of why access to information is so important. The public want to understand how their institutions are responding to the crisis, and ultimately hold those institutions accountable for their actions.
So how can government work to ensure an effective and efficient access to information system? One way is to get ahead of the issue by not waiting for citizens to ask for records. This is especially the case where certain types of records are frequently requested. Public bodies can save themselves and the public time by proactively disclosing these records in a deliberate and obvious manner. Proactive disclosure is especially relevant during times like the current COVID- 19 pandemic.
This idea of proactive disclosure is more than just a helpful suggestion or a best practice. It is a legal obligation under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).
FIPPA was amended in 2011 to require public bodies to create categories of records that are proactively disclosed to the public. Both creating such categories and clearly communicating their existence to the public are critical components of meeting this statutory obligation.
The question posed by this investigation report is, “What have public bodies done to make good on this obligation?” In some cases, progress has been made. In other instances, not much. In general, much more needs to be done.
This report follows several other proactive disclosure reports from my office that explained both the necessity and the means for public bodies to be open and transparent. This report makes a fuller accounting of what public bodies are actually doing, providing a clearer roadmap for future action. I hope all public bodies will find it to be of assistance.
Michael McEvoy is the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC. The full Investigation Report on Section 71 is below: IR 20-01 S. 71 report June Final.pdf