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BC commissioner asks minister to fix FOI gap

Information and privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham is encouraging the British Columbia government to include businesses owned by all public bodies under the province's freedom of information law.

"It is vital for open and accountable government that, whatever the form of the entity, if it is carrying on public business, it should be subject to [the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act," Denham wrote in an Oct. 20, 2011 letter to Margaret MacDiarmid, the minister of labour, citizens' services and open government, released today.

Denham recommended addressing "the accountability gap" by amending the law so that businesses owned by educational bodies and other local public bodies are covered, the same way businesses owned by local governments are already covered.

The government is considering other amendments to the FOI law to the legislature, but none addressing Denham's concern.

Denham requested the change after a B.C. Supreme Court decision found that records held by a corporation Simon Fraser University owns were not covered by the FOI law.

Responding to questions this morning in the legislature from New Democratic Party critic Doug Routley, MacDiarmid said she'd received Denham's letter in the last few days. "We're aware of the issue, but it's being brought forward very recently," she said. "The gap was created by this court decision which also was available very recently."

She added, "The initial conversation is already starting with the commissioner, and we're going to work in this area."

The Tyee reported this morning that the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association's Executive Director Vincent Gogolek said the issue has been a long standing problem and should have been included in amendments to the act.

A special committee recommended a similar change in 2010 and a five-year old report said businesses owned by school boards needed to be covered by the FOI law, a recommendation then education minister Shirley Bond said at the time she accepted.

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

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