Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Vancouver Coastal Health FOI request on fired chair Trevor Johnstone vanishes

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column
Tuesday July 3, 2007

Promises disappear with sensitive gov't documents


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.

- Gordon Campbell, July 22, 1998

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.


Anonymous said...

All ministries have folks who do FOI work. All should have sufficient training to actually do what they are paid to do. Seems some are paid to lose reports and requests. Wonder which clerk three they will blame for this one? dl

Anonymous said...


You are not alone in your battles with this secretive government.

Until the FOI Commissioner comes down hard on Campbell we have no other option.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bill, Remember the motto of the Liberal Party . . . "We Only Cheat When We Can't Win"

Anonymous said...

This secrecy has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. It's so sad, but I had to chuckle at a recent situation.

In a legal case, there was a demand for disclosure of certain documents. There were three parties. The first was making the demand; the second was the new Private Operator; the third was the Province. The Province had given a part of its business to the new Private Operator.

Amongst the documents were price lists for product. The Province provided the lists, but redacted all of the actual numbers, arguing that their release could harm the commercial interests of the new Private Operator.

The new Private Operator provided similar documents but they included all of the numbers redacted by the Province. Seems they didn't feel their "commercial interests" were threatened in the least!

The real irony is that the requesting party already had the numbers as they are in the public domain.

Go figure.

Anonymous said...

Vaughn Palmer has already published everything you need to know on this topic; why waste valuable FOI’s staff time on old news? Besides at the end of the day you are just some partisan political hack with a website. Actual reputable new correspondents such as Vaughn Palmer should be first in line. Besides did it ever occur to you that it is precisely wannabe political hacks with websites that are the reason why the FOI office is bogging down from all of the throw dung at the wall fishing fests being filed ?

Anonymous said...

From 7:52's comment, it seems there are two things in play. First, the Liberals' spin artists did not all leave with Basi and Virk. Secondly, the concept of FREEDOM of information remains foreign to a few (who may be B.Cers, can't tell). I guess if Vaughan doesn't have certain info or chooses not to comment, its nt worth anything.

Keep up the good work, Bill. But for work by people like you, Sean Holman and even Palmer we would really be left in the dark.

Budd Campbell said...

Whether Liberals or Conservatives or New Democrats, bureaucrats believe in confidentiality, in secrecy. Shaking them from that belief is impossible. Only powerful, litigatable legislation can pry open the government file cabinets, and the same is true in private industry.

We need stronger FOI laws and we need to extend their reach into the world of private business.

macadavy said...

The only power any bureaucrat has is the power to say 'NO'! That's why you have to get a license to do anything - so they can refuse your application. So it goes...