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New B.C. 'duty to document' law doesn't go far enough: privacy group

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong introduced the new duty to document legislation. - Black Press files
B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong introduced the new duty to document legislation.
— image credit: Black Press files

British Columbia's finance minister says the province will become the first in Canada to adopt legislation requiring public servants to document key government decisions.

Mike de Jong said the "duty to document" law introduced Wednesday will provide strong oversight and consistent practice across government.

"These amendments will ensure the Information Management Act remains the strongest legislation of its kind in Canada," he said in a statement.

An all-party government committee called for duty to document provisions last year in a review of the province's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The new rules follow high-profile cases where potentially sensitive government documents were deleted, or where decisions delivered orally were never recorded.

B.C.'s former information and privacy commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, launched a probe in 2015 after a whistleblower said his former supervisor in the Transportation Ministry deleted documents requesting information about an investigation into missing and murdered women along the Highway of Tears in northern B.C.

Denham wrote a highly critical report highlighting the government's failure to keep adequate email records or document searches and the wilful destruction of records in response to a freedom-of-information request.

Following the report, former information and privacy commissioner David Loukidelis was tasked with reviewing the government's record-keeping practices.

He recommended a complete overhaul of the transitory records policy, which allowed politicians and officials to delete documents, especially emails, they consider inconsequential.

De Jong said the proposed legislation addresses the recommendations made by Loukidelis.

But Vincent Gogolek, executive director of B.C.'s Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, said the proposed law does not come close to meeting the recommendations.

"It's not even half measures," he said. "It's not a duty. A duty is 'thou shalt.' That's not what they are doing."

Gogolek said the law is discretionary, and should contain language requiring the government to document its decisions.

De Jong said he disagrees with Gogolek.

"It's the first time any jurisdiction in this country, I'm aware of, has endeavoured to codify the obligation to keep these records," he said.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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