I have been greatly encouraged by statements you have made, in a variety of settings, on the issue of access to information and the rights of citizens in a democracy.
Your letter of October 20, 2011 to the Honourable Dr. Margaret MacDiarmid Minister of Labour, Citizens’ Services and Open Government, in which you stated:
“It is vital for open and accountable government that, whatever the form of the entity, if it is carrying on public business, it should be subject to FIPPA.”
was indeed encouraging.
To that end I am attaching copies of two letters in which your predecessors addressed the glaring paradox of having an access to information law that takes away access to information on one public policy issue.
There is thus no public scrutiny, no public accountability and no public access to information on the issue of abortion.
Indeed, former Commissioner David Loukidelis stated:
Bill 21 Fundamentally Changes the FOI Act: My first concern is that the amendment fundamentally changes the nature of the FOI Act, by introducing a mandatory exception based soley on the subject-matter of a record. Such a subject-matter exception is a feature of outmoded, and rightly denigrated, access and privacy laws.
Bill 21 Is Not Necessary: The FOI Act as it stands – notably through ss.19 and 22 – has proved more than capable of protecting such information as would identify abortion providers or patients or threaten their health or safety. Of the almost 450 orders made under the FOI Act, less than half a dozen have involved records relating to abortion services. In no case has information been ordered disclosed that would identify or otherwise jeopardize abortion service providers, patients or other persons who are in any way associated with abortion services.
“While the Bill 21 amendment does not exclude abortion services information from coverage by the FOI Act, it essentially has the same effect. With the exception of policies and global statistics, all information relating to that specific subject (the provision of abortion services) must not be disclosed. The only exception is that an individual may request information about abortion services that she has received. Many legitimate issues of the accountability of public bodies for their use of public funds cannot, therefore, be addressed through the right of access. Bill 21 simply excludes accountability by, for all intents and purposes, repealing the right of access in this area.”
Both David Loukidelis and Paul Fraser, QC, have made their views known on section 22.1 of the Act.
I was wondering where you stand on this topic?
As you seek to hold government for information and privacy issues in British Columbia, perhaps it is time for your office to demonstrate its commitment to open access to all topics in a democracy?
I am reminded of that quote, found in the Dagg v Canada (Minister of Finance) 1997 Court Decision, that stated:
‘‘the overarching purpose of access to information legislation is to facilitate democracy. It helps to ensure first, that citizens have the information required to participate meaningfully in the democratic process, and secondly, that politicians and bureaucrats remain accountable to the citizenry.’’
I am hopeful that you yourself believe in these principles.
I also believe that it is time for your office to be more vocal on government making “topics” off limits in a democracy.
Looking forward to your reply.
(We will post any response here – it’s called democracy)