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BC government gives up on FOI legal challenge

The B.C. legislature has dropped its constitutional challenge against the powers of the B.C. information commissioner mounted last fall, saying it will now follow the commissioner's ruling.

The legislature was trying to overturn an order of last Dec. 7, 2011, that government cannot hide parts of ministers' records (created at the time of the BC Rail sale) from Freedom of Information Act requestors with the claim that these are "out of the scope" of the law. This reporter had made the FOI request in question. The order about it was issued by adjudicator Jay Fedorak in the office of the B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner.

On Aug. 9, 2012, the Legislative Assembly applied for a judicial review in B.C. Supreme Court to overturn that ruling. Then on Aug. 27, it appended that appeal to add a constitutional challenge, arguing the commissioner had no jurisdiction to rule on the matter. The appeals are dropped, but the government says it reserves the right to raise such a parliamentary privilege later in another case if necessary.

"We're glad to see the legislature decided to stop wasting the court's time and taxpayers' money on this and agree to the release of the information," said Vincent Gogolek, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. "Perhaps this is a sign that our elected officials are starting to understand the need for transparency if they are to retain legitimacy in the eyes of the people."

Gogolek is not sure if or how the decision might influence the government's use of "out-of-scope" FOI claims in the future.

Stanley Tromp is a Vancouver-based reporter.

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