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BC should release full IBM contract, says Supreme Court

The British Columbia Supreme Court has ruled against the provincial government in its bid to keep parts of a major contract secret.

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner was correct to order the release of a full contract between the province and IBM Canada Ltd., said Justice Keith Bracken in his 16-page reasons for judgement.

"I find that the Adjudicator acted reasonably by considering s.15(1) together on the facts and evidence before him," it said. "The reasons do not contain any misstatement of the law or other legal error."

"Our unbeaten streak continues," said Vincent Gogolek, the executive director of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, which submitted the FOI request for the IBM contract more than eight years ago. "The government is 'O' for ever in terms of this FOI battle they seem determined to engage in. Their argument has been shot down by yet another court, so we're hoping this will be over soon."

The government is deciding whether or not to appeal the decision, said Labour, Citizens' Services and Open Government Minister Margaret MacDiarmid. "We're taking a careful look at it to determine what steps we'll take next," she said.

Most of the 535-page contract has been released, but not the sections where the government has security concerns, she said. "I think the public would expect us to pay attention and be as careful as we possibly can when there's a security concern that's raised."

Gogolek said the government has failed to convince FIPA, the OIPC or the courts that there is enough of a security concern to justify keeping those parts of the contract secret.

Open government is one of Christy Clark's top three priorities, along with families and jobs. If the government is serious about being open, Gogolek said, contracts should be proactively disclosed. "They've made some efforts, but this is one of those litmus tests."

Before the latest round in court, the government had spent $125,000 fighting to keep the IBM contract secret, and the OIPC had also spent $100,000 on legal costs, Gogolek said. He said he was grateful to lawyer Sean Hern for representing FIPA in court for two days for free.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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