The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) calls on B.C. Premier John Horgan’s government to immediately reverse course and abandon its outrageous plan to impose a $25 tariff on requests for information made under the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
CAJ is a professional organization with over 1,000 members across Canada. The CAJ’s primary roles are public-interest advocacy work and professional development for its members.
The proposed legislation, Bill 22, was tabled in the provincial legislature on October 18 by Lisa Beare, the minister of citizens’ services. In addition to the so-called “prescribed application fee”, the legislation, if passed, would also add additional loopholes to allow departments and/or agencies to avoid accountability for not fulfilling a request. The NDP holds a majority of seats in the legislature.
“Bill 22 takes the ‘free’ out of freedom of information,” said Brent Jolly, CAJ president. “In one fell swoop, we have gone from the 21st century back to the stone age with this bill. It is a thumb in the eye of transparency efforts to ensure governments are transparent in their day-to-day operations.”
Michael McEvoy, the province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, has also issued a critical analysis of the government’s bill. The CAJ endorses the scathing rebuke of Bill 22 described in a recent letter written by leaders from several journalism schools in B.C.
In an effort to provide constructive feedback to the negative effects this proposed legislation would have on journalists’ ability to effectively access public information, the CAJ has joined a growing coalition of groups and individuals concerned with government transparency. You can read our first submission to the provincial government here.
There are many ways to improve B.C.’s freedom of information legislation, from reducing wait times to ensuring strict adherence to the exemptions allowed under the Act. Charging members of the media a fee just to begin the process is not an improvement.
“Transparency means breaking down barriers, not erecting more walls,” said Jolly. “Whether it is about accessing information about COVID-19, police costs for the Fairy Creek blockades, and any points in between, this bill is anathema to democratic governance that blatantly disregards the public’s right to know. It should be thrown overboard.”