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BC Privacy Commissioner Ruling Halts 'Arbitrary' FOI Redactions

Public bodies can no longer withhold docs deemed 'out of scope' or 'non-responsive.'

By Andrew MacLeod 19 Jun 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, April 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

It will be harder for the British Columbia government to arbitrarily censor information it wants to keep secret thanks to four new orders from the office of the province's information and privacy commissioner, Elizabeth Denham.

That's the assessment of Vincent Gogolek, the executive director of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association advocacy group. "This is great," he said, characterizing the orders dated June 18 as "a really big deal."

At issue was a common practice by public bodies responding freedom of information (FOI) requests to withhold parts of records when those sections are deemed "out of scope" or "non-responsive" to the wording of the request.

"They don't even point to a section of the act," Gogolek said. "It's entirely discretionary and open to abuse. You have no idea what the real reasoning is."

Denham's orders included two new decisions and two reconsiderations related to FOI requests made to the B.C. Ministry of Environment, the Insurance Corporation of B.C., the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

'The way it should be': Gogolek

Public bodies will now have to release records in their entirety, unless they can justify withholding information for reasons outlined in section two of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Those reasons include exceptions like when disclosing the information would harm law enforcement, public safety or personal privacy.

"That's the way it should be," Gogolek said. "Those exceptions are there for a reason."

The public bodies may still request a review of the privacy commissioner's orders, but Gogolek said he hoped the government will accept the decision and stop arbitrarily censoring parts of the records it releases.

"This has been a huge thing for us for years and years. It's very exciting," he said.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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