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Michael McEvoy

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  1. A report card on government’s access to information timelines GOVERNMENT’S INFORMATION IS THE PUBLIC’S INFORMATION. More than a glib phrase, this principle was unanimously enshrined by BC’s legislature in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) more than 25 years ago. FIPPA gives each of us the right of access to a public body’s information within a prescribed time frame, subject to carefully prescribed exceptions. To be meaningful, any access to information system must work in a timely way — access delayed is, in many cases, access denied. And any time an access response is outside the legislated timeline, government fails to respect the law. For these reasons, my office has, for many years, conducted periodic assessments of the provincial government’s timeliness in responding to access requests. This report examines timeliness since the previous assessment released in September, 2017. This report uses the same point scoring system as past timeliness assessments to ensure valid comparisons. This report also applies other metrics, which offer further insights into government’s performance. The positive news is that response times, as measured by government’s point scores of the last three years, are their highest since 2012/13. This is welcome. But it must not obscure what continues to be a blight on the access to information system and a threat to the public’s confidence in it: between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2020, government took it upon themselves, in over 4,000 cases, to extend the response time for an access request without any legal right to do so. Timeliness of access is a vitally important principle. Surely it should go without saying that respect for the law is even more important. This untenable situation has spanned multiple governments over many years. My worry is that, over time, a culture of acceptance has grown around this issue, affecting government’s attitude toward the problem, and also, to be frank, the approach my office has taken. This must end. To be clear, I acknowledge the rising volume of access requests, especially in the past two fiscal years, as illustrated in this report. The all-time highs for requests undoubtedly present challenges and I credit the dedicated public servants, particularly those in the Information Access Operations office, who work very hard to keep pace. The fact is, however, that the public service must have the resources necessary to keep pace with demand and to comply with the law. Other tools exist that can improve the situation, so this report makes recommendations that could assist the work of the government’s access experts. Ministries must also prioritize proactive disclosure to ensure commonly sought records are more readily available. In addition, as noted in my s. 71 report published earlier this year, government must establish additional categories of records to make information more easily accessible. I also encourage access applicants to, wherever possible, try to ensure the scope of their requests accurately targets only the information they truly need. In summary, while I am encouraged by the improvement in government’s response scores, I am deeply troubled by the large number of cases left unanswered within the time limits set out in FIPPA. This state of affairs cannot continue without bringing British Columbia’s access to information law into disrepute. Michael McEvoy, Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia Read the report:OIPC Timeliness Report.pdf
  2. 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
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