Freedom of Information changes will disproportionately affect First Nations, Indigenous leaders: UBCIC
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs says the NDP government's plans to change the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act will disproportionately affect First Nations if a new fee is introduced.
Minister of Citizen Services Lisa Beare told reporters other jurisdictions had fees between $5 and $50 and she'd be recommending in the middle of that, which led many to believe a $25 fee was to be put in place. Premier John Horgan later insisted no fee had been decided upon.
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, UBCIC secretary-treasurer, noted First Nations experience high levels of poverty and would be disproportionately impacted.
"The fee will deter First Nations from filing FOI requests," she said in a statement.
If put in place, a $25 fee would be among the highest in Canada. As noted by several journalism professors opposed to the fee, six provinces and one territory don't even have a fee. Three provinces charge $5 as does the federal government, and another three charge $25.
According to Service Alberta, the initial fee is $25. The website reads "the applicant is required to pay an initial fee of $25 for a one-time request, or $50 for a continuing request."
Asked if she referred to other provinces having a $50 fee to deliberately mislead the public, Beare replied, "The fees across the jurisdictions are five to 50, yes that's for a subsequent application but yes that is part of the application fees across the provinces."
In B.C. applicants can also be charged for FOI requests that take a substantial amount of time to produce. Those fees can be in the hundreds to thousands of dollars.
If passed, Bill 22 which authorizes changes to the act, would also block the Information and Privacy Commissioner from waiving application fees if the requests are in the public interest.
UBCIC says while First Nations and their umbrella organizations participated in consultations, there was no discussion of imposing any new fees.
Other concerns for the organization include that the Office of the Premier is removed from the list of public bodies covered by the act - something the privacy commissioner says muddies the waters in terms of whether the office will be subject to the law. The government argues it's removing a redundant passage because it is covered like all other ministerial offices.
Another concern, that a long standing recommendation from the privacy commissioner's office isn't in the legislation -- that government require all important decisions and discussions be documented.
"If records are not created, they cannot be subject to an FOI request," added Kukpi7 Wilson.