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B.C. information commissioner slams long waits for FOI requests


British Columbia’s information and privacy commissioner is warning the provincial government of the risks of increasing waits for freedom of information requests – and of flouting its own rules.

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner published a review of the government’s performance in responding to freedom of information requests from April 2020 to March 2023, finding response times had never been longer in the 13 years the office has been tracking waits for applications. 

The province is supposed to respond within 30 business days, 60 in exceptional circumstances, but the report found that not only is the typical wait now 80 days, in some cases the government is taking months to respond and not asking for authorization from the OIPC for an extension, as is required under law.

“Government knows it should be complying with its own laws, otherwise they're brought into disrepute and that's how institutions and their validity begin to lose trust and confidence – and I don't think any government, any public body wants to see that,” said commissioner Michael McEvoy in a one-on-one interview.

Since 2020, CTV News has observed a deterioration in responsiveness from the provincial government when making freedom of information requests, not receiving any within the 30-day window. While CTV has seen the trend extend to other public bodies, McEvoy’s analysis only looked at provincial bodies, including the ministries of health and children, which had the highest number of requests.

From information on COVID-19 outbreaks in hospitals that led to hundreds getting sick and dying, to oversight for children in foster care, to records of environmental assessments, many of the requests ministries direct through the formalized freedom of information application process don’t actually need that process – it’s intended to identify and redact personal or sensitive information, but can also be used to shield government from controversy or criticism.

“They could do themselves a whole lot of favours by being much more open,” said McEvoy. “We live in an age now of disinformation and conspiracy theories, and I think a lot of that gets fuelled by government's resistance to being more open – and I think they could serve society and citizens and themselves a whole lot by being more open, and being more timely about that openness.” Top Stories

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