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Wait for FOI requests in B.C. the worst its been in 13 years: commissioner

Province only meeting 30-day benchmark in about 50% of access to information requests, report finds
A 2014 file photo shows a copy of B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPAA). THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

British Columbians looking to access records from the provincial government are having to wait longer now than at any point in the last 13 years.

The Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner released its latest report on access to information in B.C. on Wednesday (Jan. 31), examining the period between April 2020 and March 2023. In the final of those years, the office found it took the province an average of 85 business days to respond to a request, the worst average wait time on record.

According to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA), government is supposed to respond to requests within 30 business days, unless there are extenuating circumstances.

A decade ago, this mark was largely being met. About three quarters of requests were responded to within the benchmark period then. In the last three years, however, that’s dropped to around half of cases, according to the report.

“It is an understatement to say this downward trend is not a positive one,” the report reads.

Worse, the report further found that in 5,100 cases over the last three years the government exceeded the time allowed to respond to a request without any legal authority to do so. In those cases, applicants had to wait about 192 additional business days to get a response.

“It is important to remember that these are more than just numbers on a chart. The wait times involve real people trying to get information about themselves, or about the Government who serves them – individuals trying to get a record of their dealings with a particular ministry, or a journalist working with a deadline on a story impacting a multitude of individuals,” Commissioner Michael McEvoy said in a statement Wednesday.

Requests under the FOIPPA can include anything from a person looking to access medical or police records on themself, to someone seeking information on what government has been doing behind the scenes, to a journalist doing a deep dive on an important issue.

McEvoy said the worsening delays seen in the last three years are despite an actual decrease in the number of requests made. He pointed to the $10 application fee the government introduced in November 2021 as one possible cause of that decline in applications.

At the same time, McEvoy said he recognized the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic likely had on slowing down operations. He also acknowledged that the province has been making efforts to modernize the access to information process, to make it more efficient.

McEvoy made six recommendations in the report, including that the government identify and correct any lags in the process, ensure there are enough resources going into it and submit a plan to his office by March 31, 2024 that details how it will ensure no more unlawful delays occur.

About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media after starting as a community reporter in Greater Victoria.
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