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BC Liberal changes to FOI law leave loophole open

The British Columbia government is amending its freedom of information legislation, but is failing to close a loophole they said five years ago would be fixed.

"It's very odd the government would have a minister announce 'we are going to do this,' and then not do it," said Vincent Gogolek, the executive director of the advocacy group B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

When public bodies such as schools or universities own companies, those companies are not subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. On Oct. 18, 2006, then education minister Shirley Bond said in a news release the government accepted a recommendation to bring school-owned companies under the FOIPPA.

The change, however, was never made. So in 2010 a special committee considering the FOI act made a broader recommendation in its report: "Expand the definition of 'public body' in Schedule 1 to include any corporation that is created or owned by a public body, including an educational body."

Asked why the government chose not to make the change while it is making other amendments to the act, the Minister of Labour, Citizens' Services and Open Government Margaret MacDiarmid, said, "There's many things that have come forward over the years that have not yet been addressed, and this would fall into that category."

Noting that she has been the minister responsible for one month, she said, "There are many, many recommendations that have come forward from a whole bunch of bodies that continue to be looked at." They include technical issues, legal drafting issues and the ability to consult, she said.

Including in the act corporations that public bodies own "I think it's something we need to look at," she said.

"The act is still open," said Gogolek. The legislature could fix the problem in a way that increases transparency, but the government has chosen not to, he said. "It says this is not an issue for them. They appear to be totally happy to have these entities beyond the reach of FOI."

In other situations, such as BC Ferries, the government has recognized that public scrutiny can lead to better management, he said. "We're dealing with public money here. Public money, public accountability."

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

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