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BC Ferries will announce whenever any FOI records are released

British Columbia Ferry Services Inc. plans to notify the media whenever records are released under the Freedom of Information process, a move observers say may be more about discouraging journalists than increasing openness.

The publicly owned private company will be covered by B.C.'s FOI act as of Oct. 1, according to its website, bringing it into compliance with provincial legislation passed in April.

While most public bodies release records just to the person who requested them,“BC Ferries will send email notifications to its News Release subscriber list when records are made available to a requestor through the Freedom of Information process.” The records themselves will be posted on the company's website.

“That's an interesting way of doing it,” said Vincent Gogolek, policy director for the advocacy group B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. “Who knows, maybe this is the new era of openness.”

While FIPA supports making records public once they've been released, Gogolek said it is hard to know what B.C. Ferries is trying to achieve. “These kinds of things have a certain whiff about them,” he said. “The purpose may be to screw over a member of the media who has applied for [the records].”

A B.C. Ferries spokesperson did not immediately respond to e-mailed questions.

“The public should not be fooled into thinking this is an effort by the corporation to be more transparent,” said Sean Holman, editor of the Public Eye website.

Reporters file FOI requests because they are trying to get exclusive information, he said. “I think this is a clear attempt to suppress media interest in filing Freedom of Information requests.”

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

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