Amendments to B.C. FOIA ‘turn out the lights’ on public scrutiny

The British Columbia provincial government is attempting to change the provinceÔÇÖs Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIA) laws in a way that will make previously obtainable government records unavailable.

ThatÔÇÖs the fear from opposition MPPs and some members of the media about FOIA legislation amendments proposed by B.C. Premier Gordon CampbellÔÇÖs government.
The proposed amendments included in Bill 62, the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 3), state that the FOIA will no longer apply to any committees that include a cabinet minister, including the executive management committees of all 28 government ministries.

ÔÇ£This government claimed that it would be the most open and accountable government in BC history, but what weÔÇÖve seen instead is one of the most secretive administrations ever,ÔÇØ said Opposition Leader (NDP) Joy MacPhail in a release.

MacPhail said that government documents previously released under FOI that would no longer be available would include ministry communications plans, revenue and taxation forecasts and briefing notes for ministers. ÔÇ£Premier Campbell talks a great line about wanting government to be more inclusive and to encourage public participation,ÔÇØ he said. ÔÇ£Bill 62 turns out the lights on a vital aspect of public scrutiny.ÔÇØ

British Columbia and Yukon Community Newspapers Association (BCYCNA) General Manager George Affleck said the association has a number of concerns about how the changes will affect BCYCNA members.

ÔÇ£They will no longer be able to access caucus committee information, and the commissioner has more discretion to reject their requests,ÔÇØ said Affleck. Plus, with response times increasing, it will be difficult to get timely information.ÔÇØ

Affleck said the provincial government seems determined to push the leglislation through.

ÔÇ£WeÔÇÖve been keeping tabs on this legislation,ÔÇØ he said. ÔÇ£The provincial government seems to feel that the changes to the act will not impact journalistic efforts. I want our members to know that should their work be impeded, they should contact the BCYCNA so that we can present our industryÔÇÖs concerns to the government.ÔÇØ