B.C. government takes three months to produce nothing

A request for records blew past three deadlines, spanning three months, only to withhold all records

This is part of our ongoing Okanagan Incorrectional series, detailing the problems B.C.’s newest jail has been facing since its opening. Find part three on Friday in the paper and online.

A B.C. lawyer who advocates for inmates’ rights says she is concerned about a lack of transparency and independent oversight at B.C. Corrections.

Jen Metcalfe, executive director of Vancouver-based advocacy firm Prisoners’ Legal Services, said that lack of oversight can lead to a “potential lack of accountability.”

“We would like to see changes that would require B.C. Corrections to publicly report on things like use of force and rates of solitary confinement, similar to the oversight that the federal Correctional Investigator provides for the Correctional Service of Canada,” Metcalfe said.

The comment comes after the B.C. government blew past a twice-extended deadline to produce effectively nothing after receiving a freedom of information request from the Western News.

The request was for any and all incident reports of violence between inmates and staff at the Okanagan Correctional Centre, and it had an initial deadline of Feb. 28.

Two extensions were granted on that file, ultimately to March 21, but that deadline came and went with no indication the request was still being processed until email correspondence came on April 3 indicating it was still in the works.

Finally, on April 10, 12 business days after the due date, the a response came from the freedom of information department:

“Please be advised the records you requested are withheld in their entirety pursuant to section(s) 15 (Disclosure harmful to law enforcement), and 22 (Disclosure harmful to personal privacy) of FOIPPA,” the release reads, referring to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The response did, however, note that there were eight substantiated incidents of inmate assaults on staff and zero substantiated incidents of staff assaults on inmates, but provided no details.

The Western News has challenged the lack of disclosure with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, but an OIPC investigation can take months or even years.

Another request, this time for records pertaining to inmate complaints at the jail, was put to the information and privacy watchdog in October. But an investigator was not assigned to that OIPC file until March, and there has been no word from the investigator since.

The B.C. government held a public consultation on FOIPPA this spring, with online engagement open until early this month. But a Ministry of Citizens’ Services spokesperson said there would be no information from the government on potential changes to the act or the results of the engagement for at least a few weeks.

In its March newsletter, the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association called for penalties for interfering with information access rights, a duty to document (particularly, pushing against a failure to create documents or destroying them) and bringing education subsidiaries under FOIPPA.

“We are getting more calls and hearing more stories from concerned citizens who are not able to get the information they are looking for,” the FIPA call to action reads. “This lack of transparency fosters a culture of secrecy with no accountability.”

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

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