Tuesday July 3, 2007
Promises disappear with sensitive gov't documents
By BILL TIELEMAN
There are a number of things that I think we do need to do to reinvigorate our public institutions, to re-establish trust in our institutions. Freedom of information is really one of the easier ones.
No, Premier, freedom of information is not "one of the easier ones" - not for you.
Today I am filing a complaint with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner because an FOI request I made to Vancouver Coastal Health Authority on January 30, 2007 has yet to be fulfilled.
Why? I suspect it's because I asked for politically embarrassing correspondence surrounding the firing of Trevor Johnstone, chair of Vancouver Coastal Health by Health Minister George Abbott, for allegedly being unable to deal with a $40 million deficit.
That firing prompted the resignation of Fraser Health Authority Chair Keith Purchase, a big B.C. Liberal supporter.
So I wanted any communications between Johnstone and the government, to figure out what happened.
But five months later I have yet to get one scrap of information, over two months past the legislative requirement to respond.
Regrettably, this is standard. Last year in this column I detailed another FOI request that took a ridiculous 17 months.
Despite outrageously violating the FOI Act, the government official responsible simply wrote: "I apologize for the delay in responding."
I also discovered in 2004 that I had been "red flagged" for special attention by government, an honour also accorded to several other journalists and political activists that can delay FOI requests because ministers and political staff are notified.
So this time I want a ruling from Commissioner David Loukidelis. I want the information I requested and I want it now. I want the rules to be followed as they are written. And I expect an apology and explanation.
Here's the FOI sequence of events: The request was filed January 30, 2007. On February 27 Vancouver Coastal Health said the information would come by March 13 - within the 30 business days the Act requires.
But in an undated letter received March 12, I was informed that Vancouver Coastal Health was extending the 30-day limit by another 30 days, as the Act allows, to April 25.
I received nothing by that date. On May 24 and 28 I left messages asking what happened. On June 8, I was told I'd be contacted on June 11. I've still heard and received nothing.
Ironically, my Vancouver Sun colleague Vaughn Palmer has published several columns quoting the same type of correspondence I've requested, without any parts censured.
That's because he didn't get it through an FOI request. It was leaked to him.