FOI Probe Finds “Deficiencies”
Victoria, B.C. – Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham says there are major deficiencies in the access to information practices of two government ministries and the Office of the Premier.
In her report, “Access Denied: Record Retention and Disposal Practices of the Government of British Columbia” Denham concluded there is a “disconnect between the actions of political staff in responding to access to information requests. “In the course of this investigation, we uncovered negligent searches for records, a failure to keep adequate email records, a failure to document searches, and the willful destruction of records responsive to an access request. Taken together, these practices threaten the integrity of access to information in British Columbia,” said Denham.
The investigation was prompted by a complaint from a staff member that emails, pertinent to a Freedom of Information request, had been destroyed.
The commissioner has referred the matter to the RCMP.
Denham also found the search for records in another request was “negligent” and that in a third case, there was a lack of documentation of the search for records in the Office of the Premier.
Denham has made eleven recommendations including
- Technological changes to stop employees from permanently deleting emails;
- Mandatory training in records management, including training on what is a transitory record and what is not;
- Best practices to ensure that employees follow correct processes when responding to access to information requests and meet the duty to assist;
- Legislative changes including a duty to document key decisions of government, and oversight of information management and destruction of records with sanctions for non-compliance; and
- Re-processing of two of the three access requests examined in this report.
The government says it is already acting on the recommendations, by first calling on former Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis to advise government on how to address the recommendations. Loukidelis will also provide advice and direction on enhancing freedom of information training for staff. The Government says it will also see that the 36 pages not included in the request to the Ministry of Transportation that sparked the investigation, will be delivered, as will 20 email records missing from a request to the Ministry of Advanced Education.
The recommendations also call for some legislative changes which the Government says will take some time to review.