Facing case backlog, B.C.’s information commissioner says office may need more money

Facing case backlog, B.C.’s information commissioner says office may need more money

Information and privacy commissioner calls on governments to give more information to public

Those seeking public documents from British Columbia government bodies are increasingly being told to wait – and wait again – for the information they seek.

That has led the province’s information and privacy commissioner to urge B.C.’s public bodies and governments to do better at providing public information to citizens without them having to ask. But as he calls on government to find ways to meet provincial law, commissioner Michael McEvoy is also considering whether he needs more resources to ensure his own office is dealing with cases in a timely manner.

“I think government can do a lot better job of proactively releasing information that doesn’t require people to be asking for,” McEvoy said in a recent interview with The News. Abbotsford mayor Henry Braun expressed a similar sentiment last month, suggesting that more information could be released proactively. The city, which has set money aside to digitize historic records, is on track to handle 600 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

The province’s FOI law applies to the provincial government, municipalities like Abbotsford, regional districts, public bodies like Fraser Health and WorkSafeBC, and Crown corporations like BC Hydro.

Those bodies have increasingly come to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) to ask for more time to meet those FOI requests.

Under the provincial FOI law, governmental organizations have 30 days to comply with FOI requests. In some cases, the body has another 30 days to meet the request, but if the organization wants even more time, they must request such an extension from the OIPC.

In 2017/18, the OIPC received 1,638 time-extension requests from public bodies. This year, it’s on pace to receive about 6,000 – a nearly four-fold increase.

McEvoy noted that the law stipulates that B.C.’s FOI law requires governments and public bodies to make certain categories of records available without a request.

“I think they can all be doing a lot better at not waiting for the access requests but getting records proactively released to the public and put on their website, for example, so you can access them easily.”

In a statement to The News, the province’s Ministry of Citizens’ Services said the B.C. government’s rising number of extensions are the result of an increasing number of requests. The statement from the ministry said the rate at which requests to the provincial government are processed on time has actually increased in recent years. The statement only relates to requests to the provincial government.

The ministry said the province has “expanded the types of records available proactively and continues to look at ways to make even more records available without having to make a FOI request. We are also exploring new technologies to make responding to FOI requests more efficient and secure, and to help with large-volume requests.”

But the OIPC has also found itself unable to meet legislated timelines to resolve disputes over what information should be made public. Last year, the office dealt with 1,400 cases in which it was asked to review redactions made by a public body before records were redacted. Most cases are resolved informally, but around 90 end up before an adjudicator. Although the law states that the office has 90 days to wrap up such cases, full inquiries are taking more than a year to complete now. Only about half are dealt with in 90 days, according to McEvoy.

The News learned of the delays after requesting a review of sweeping redactions of an audit commissioned by Fraser Health that deals with cancer treatment in B.C. Although an investigator told the Provincial Health Services Authority that it was his opinion the body must not refuse to release the audit, the PHSA continues to fight the full release of the documents. That could send the case to an inquiry.

The News was asked for consent to extend the timeline. It did so only after being told that the file would be closed if no consent was granted. The News requested the audit five months ago, after writing about Carol Young, a terminal cancer patient who struggled to access treatment in Abbotsford. She died in late October.

RELATED: Provincial health body refuses to release full findings of cancer triage system audit

RELATED: Carol Young, an artist who fought for timely cancer treatment in Abbotsford, dies before first solo show

“It does take too long and it’s not fair to you as the applicant or public bodies or the organization,” McEvoy said. “There is an old expression, ‘Justice delayed is justice denied,’ and I believe that.”

The complexity of cases, and the size of requests given the use of email, has risen in recent decades and added to the time it takes to wrap up cases. “But also adding to time is a resource question,” McEvoy said.

He said his office has allocated more resources to inquiries and significantly boosted the number of adjudicators. McEvoy said he is hoping that will speed things up.

It’s still too early to say if those additions are helping, he said. If they aren’t, McEvoy said he may ask for more money from the legislative committee that sets his office’s budget.

“At the end of the day, it is the public’s information and the public has a right of access to it, subject to narrow limitations.”

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
tolsen@abbynews.com


@ty_olsen
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Chemainus Secondary School 2021 graduate and valedictorian Chayla Pollock receives her certificate from principal Lori Hryniuk. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Valedictorian Pollock’s address to the Class of 2021

Different kind of setting in a classroom for the traditional presentation

Chemainus Secondary School 2021 graduate Nina Bumstead. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Grad ceremony proceeds, with a twist

Red carpet outside works out well for Chemainus Secondary’s Class of 2021

The Crofton trailer park home where the bodies of two people were found. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Mom still waiting for answers after daughter and her fiance found dead in Crofton

Pair discovered dead in their Crofton home in May identified as Rachel Gardner and Paul Jenkins

Chemainus street signs now contain Hul’qumi’num translations, like this one at the corner of Willow and Legion Streets. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Street signs go up in the Hul’qumi’num language

Chemainus intersections feature direct translations

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

A person stands in a tower on the perimeter of the Number 3 Detention Center in Dabancheng in western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on April 23, 2021. Human rights groups and Western nations led by the United States, Britain and Germany accused China of massive crimes against the Uyghur minority and demanded unimpeded access for U.N. experts at a virtual meeting on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 denounced by China as “politically motivated” and based on “lies.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mark Schiefelbein
VIDEO: Trudeau demands truth from China about Uyghurs

PM says Canada has admitted broken Indigenous relationship, unlike China on Uyghurs

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, middle right, participates in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in honour of the launch of Kelowna’s plasma donor centre at Orchard Plaza Mall on June 22. From left to right: Canadian Blood Services’ business development manager Janna Pantella, Canadian Blood Services’ operational excellence manager Tyler Burke, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran and Canadian Blood Services’ centre manager Janine Johns. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
B.C.’s first dedicated plasma donor centre opens in Kelowna

The Kelowna location is the third dedicated plasma donor to open in Canada

Children walk with their parents to Sherwood Park Elementary in North Vancouver for the first day back to school on Sept. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Study reassures parents, teachers that COVID-19 infrequently shared at school

Federally funded study in Vancouver finds risk in the classroom and in the community identical

Conservative MP Kevin Waugh rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday April 13, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Single-game sports betting about to become legal in Canada

Senate passes bill to take sports gambling away from overseas agencies

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Point Roberts is part of the mainland United States but not physically connected to it, to reach the community by land one must pass through Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Closed Canadian border leaves Point Roberts’ only grocery store on verge of closure

‘We’re Americans but we’re not attached to America. It’s easy to forget we’re here,’ says owner Ali Hayton

The Somass Sawmill sits idle in early May 2021. While the kilns have been in use occasionally, and the lot has been used to store woodchips this spring, the mill has been curtailed since July 27, 2017. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni to expropriate Somass Sawmill from Western Forest Products

Sawmill has been ‘indefinitely’ curtailed since 2017

Robin Sanford and her fiance Simon Park were married in an impromptu ceremony at Abbotsford Regional Hospital on June 16. (Submitted photo)
Mom dies day after witnessing daughter’s hospital wedding in Abbotsford

Nurses help arrange impromptu ceremony in 3 hours for bride and groom

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson with Premier John Horgan after the budget speech Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. home owner grant won’t be altered, despite expert advice

Tax break for residences worth up to $1.6 million too popular

Most Read