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Province will think carefully before changing FOI process: minister

The provincial government is learning from how BC Ferries handles freedom of information requests but hasn't decided how to change its own system, the minister responsible said.

"We're watching what BC Ferries is doing really closely and with great interest," said Citizens' Services Minister Mary McNeil. "It will be interesting to see what the privacy commissioner says about it."

The provincial government put the publicly owned company under coverage of the freedom of information and protection of privacy act starting in October, 2010. The company tracks requests on a public website and releases records to all media and the public at once instead of just to the original requester.

The Freedom of Information and Privacy Association has asked Elizabeth Denham, the information and privacy commissioner, to investigate the company's practices. That investigation is underway.

The Vancouver Sun's Chad Skelton has pointed out problems BC Ferries' process and freelance reporter Stanley Tromp condemned the move in a Feb. 13 opinion piece in The Province newspaper.

"There's no decisions have been made yet," said McNeil. The province is doing its due diligence and is unlikely to be ready to make any change before Denham reports on her findings, she said.

Asked if the government would consider delaying the release of a record to the public until after the requester has had a chance to look at it, she said, "We're looking at all sorts of different ways of doing it."

She acknowledged that reporters have been critical of BC Ferries' process. "They're absolutely important, but only one piece of the public," she said. "We're going to learn from BC Ferries, but we're not BC Ferries."

Any changes will be part of a broader strategy to proactively disclose more government records, she said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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