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Information and Transparency
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·Media· When Public Bodies Create Companies, Public Can't Peer In

24-Jan-2012 [979]

Recent court ruling against freedom of info rights is a blow to accountability.

By: By Stanley Tromp, 18 January 2012,

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Without access to records, the media are unable to do their job of getting the public the facts they may have an urgent need to know.

Yet in the past two decades, a serious problem has cropped up that is growing worse. Public bodies have been creating wholly-owned puppet companies to perform many of their functions, and manage billions of dollars in taxpayers' money, while voicing the fiction that these companies are not covered by freedom-of-information (FOI) laws because they are "private and independent."

If a recent court ruling is allowed to stand, and the B.C. FOI law is not amended, then public bodies across Canada will have a green light to shield the records of similar "private" entities, or what the British call "quangos." This would be a disaster for accountability and the public interest.

The obvious and overdue solution is now to shift the topic from the legal to the political arena. In the legislature last fall, the minister of open government "appreciated the spirit" of this needed reform, and pledged to discuss it with the information commissioner. This might appear to be a hopeful sign, but we have heard it all before: Five years ago, the education minister sent out a press release pledging to add the Vancouver School Board's private companies to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPP) Act's coverage, but this was never done. (Yet B.C. local municipalities' subsidiaries are covered by the act.)

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