2015 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 40th Parliament





Wednesday, November 18, 2015

8:30 a.m.

Douglas Fir Committee Room
Parliament Buildings, Victoria, B.C.

Present: Don McRae, MLA (Chair); Doug Routley, MLA (Deputy Chair); Kathy Corrigan, MLA; David Eby, MLA; Eric Foster, MLA; Sam Sullivan, MLA; Jackie Tegart, MLA

Unavoidably Absent: John Yap, MLA

1. The Chair called the Committee to order at 8:32 a.m.

2. Opening remarks by the Chair.

3. The following witnesses appeared before the Committee and answered questions regarding the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act:

1) Owen Munro, James Smith

4. The Committee recessed from 9:05 a.m. to 9:09 a.m.

2) Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)

Tamir Israel

3) Rob Wipond

5. The Committee recessed from 10:01 a.m. to 10:06 a.m.

4) Regional District of Central Kootenay

Bronwen Bird

6. The Committee recessed from 10:26 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

7. The following witnesses appeared before the Committee and answered questions regarding the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act:

Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services

• Bette-Jo Hughes, Government Chief Information Officer and Associate Deputy Minister

• Sharon Plater, Executive Director, Privacy and Legislation Branch

• Wes Boyd, Assistant Deputy Minister, Logistics and Business Services

Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia

• Elizabeth Denham, Information and Privacy Commissioner

• Michael McEvoy, Deputy Commissioner

8. The Committee adjourned to the call of the Chair at 12:33 p.m.

Don McRae, MLA 

Susan Sourial
Committee Clerk

The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.




Issue No. 7

ISSN 1708-315X (Print)
ISSN 1708-3168 (Online)




O. Munro

J. Smith

T. Israel

R. Wipond

B. Bird

B. Hughes

W. Boyd

S. Plater

E. Denham

M. McEvoy


Don McRae (Comox Valley BC Liberal)

Deputy Chair:

Doug Routley (Nanaimo–North Cowichan NDP)


Kathy Corrigan (Burnaby–Deer Lake NDP)

David Eby (Vancouver–Point Grey NDP)

Eric Foster (Vernon-Monashee BC Liberal)

Sam Sullivan (Vancouver–False Creek BC Liberal)

Jackie Tegart (Fraser-Nicola BC Liberal)

John Yap (Richmond-Steveston BC Liberal)


Susan Sourial

[ Page 117 ]


The committee met at 8:32 a.m.

[D. McRae in the chair.]

D. McRae (Chair): Good morning, everyone. My name is Don McRae. I am the member for Comox Valley and Chair of this committee, the Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act requires that a statutory review be conducted every six years by a special committee of the Legislative Assembly. This is the fourth such statutory review of FIPPA.

Our committee must submit a report to the Legislative Assembly by May 27, 2016, and may make recommendations to amend FIPPA. Our review is limited to scope. We are not mandated to implement our recommendations. Our committee would not be involved in any policy development or decision-making processes within government that might ensue in response to our recommendations. We are an advisory body only.

FIPPA is an access and privacy law that applies to the public sector. It gives access rights to British Columbians by requiring public bodies to disclose information in response to access requests and protects the privacy of individuals through limitations on how public bodies collect, use and disclose personal information. It also requires organizations to protect personal information by making reasonable security arrangements against the risks of a privacy breach.

At today’s public hearing, we will hear from individuals and organizations as well as the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services and the Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia. Today’s public hearing is the last one that’s been scheduled, but written and audio and video submissions will be accepted by the committee until Friday, January 29, 2016. To make a submission — I would like to remind individuals watching at home — or to learn more about the work of the committee, visit our website, which is at www.leg.bc.ca/cmt/foi.

We have allocated 20 minutes for presentations, to be followed by an additional ten minutes for questions from panel members. The proceedings are to be recorded by our able Hansard people, and a transcript of the entire meeting will be made available on our website.

Just a full disclosure before we begin. I do not feel well today, and I will try not to pass my germs on to any of the committee members and definitely not to any of the people presenting.

I’ll now ask the healthy Deputy Chair, to my left, to start by introducing himself, and we’ll make sure the people at home know who’s here.

D. Routley (Deputy Chair): My name is Doug Routley. I’m the MLA for Nanaimo–North Cowichan and Deputy Chair of this committee.

K. Corrigan: Kathy Corrigan, MLA for Burnaby–Deer Lake.

D. Eby: David Eby, MLA for Vancouver–Point Grey.

J. Tegart: Jackie Tegart, MLA for Fraser-Nicola.

E. Foster: Eric Foster, MLA, Vernon-Monashee.

S. Sullivan: Sam Sullivan, MLA, Vancouver–False Creek.

D. McRae (Chair): If possible, I’d like staff to introduce themselves as well.

S. Sourial (Committee Clerk): Susan Sourial, Committee Clerk.

H. Morrison: Helen Morrison, committee research analyst.

D. McRae (Chair): Thank you very much. Now, I believe we are doing our first video conference. Hopefully you can see us on TV. I think this is our first video presentation of the submission series.


I believe I have Owen Munro and James Smith joining us from Vancouver. I’ll turn the floor over to you.


O. Munro: Great. My name is Owen Munro, and I’m with my colleague James Smith. We are journalism students at Langara College, and we are here today to present an argument about why student governments and student unions should be covered under the British Columbia Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

We believe that student unions should fall under the same jurisdiction as public institutions, and we intend to show that the current system is both outdated and exploitative. It doesn’t hold accountable student unions who collectively are in possession of millions of dollars across the country, and these student unions can sometimes overstep their roles within the B.C. Society Act to their own benefit.

FOI records are an essential tool for students and student journalists to hold university and college student unions to a high degree of accountability. Students are in a position where, despite having many available resources, they are placed at a disadvantage. Student unions are treated as a society in the B.C. Society Act and aren’t transparent in their actions.
[ Page 118 ]

For students wanting to know more about their unions, from salaries to in-camera meetings to minutes, the most successful way of doing so is through the B.C. Society Act. Each student union is a registered society, but they are not recognized as governmental bodies, as some other functions would be, despite having many similarities to those governmental bodies.

They hold committee meetings and elections. They have control over student fees, which are mandatory. They use their own accounting systems, and they sign contracts with service providers, such as food and drink providers. They make decisions that really just affect student opinions and options as a whole, from clubs, activities, food and drink options and events. They are not unlike the structure we experience from any other governmental bodies.

We have very little influence on the interests of student unions that have become increasingly secretive and favourable towards their own benefits. In 2012, the Langara Students Union successfully eliminated their own members from attending in-camera meetings, a symbolic representation of their secretive operations toward the very people that fund them.

While we have the ability to request and to access information from our public institutions, the fact of the matter is that student governments are much more secretive, despite running essential services with fees that are mandatory of every student attending that public institution. Ironically, the fundamental service that a student union or government is mandated to provide is advocacy on behalf of the students.

There are many documented abuses of power by student unions and governments dating back to the inception of FOI laws in British Columbia. Section 19 of the B.C. College and Institute Act states that institutions must collect fees on behalf of student unions. This power is bestowed upon people who do not have the qualifications or meaningful experience to manage major sums of public money without being accountable to a certain standard of high quality.

There needs to be a level of transparency that ensures that our students’ public money isn’t being spent in unscrupulous ways and that we can trust our student governments are representing the best interests of students and not just their own agendas.

We would like to have something other to lean on than an exploitable B.C. Society Act. The society branch doesn’t hold any power in regards to enforcement of the regulations to student unions. They can only remind student unions that the Society Act is in effect, but their power to do more so doesn’t go beyond that.

For students to do anything beyond this, we must use section 85 of the B.C. Society Act and can request a superior court to remedy irregularities of student unions. This argument is underscored by the student unions’ view, especially at Langara, that they cannot be challenged by students because they are aware of the time and the cost that it takes to find some form of justice for most students.

I can imagine the difference we would make if we were able to spot reckless and inefficient spending in our own student unions, not just at Langara, but other public institutions. That would be something that not just students but the general public needs to know.

There’s no reason that we can’t dismiss that culture of secretive behaviour, and there’s no reason why we can’t hold these student unions at the highest degree of accountability to ensure that every student receives the benefit of good, balanced governance.


My colleague James Smith will now speak in-depth on specific occurrences that have happened at Langara and other public institutions in British Columbia in recent times. There have been many situations where the secrecy of our own unions have been in contravention of the B.C. Society Act and the principles which they claim to stand behind.

We have stood idly by for far too long without trying to make a profound impact on the systematic secrecy and unaccountability of the actions of student unions. There is vital information and data that is being withheld that urgently needs to be addressed for a transparent system that holds student unions responsible for their own individual actions.

I’ll pass it over to James Smith now.

J. Smith: It’s our position that student societies should be subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, as student societies are de facto part of the post-secondary institutions with which they’re associated. B.C. post-secondary students collectively pay their unions millions of dollars every semester, yet there is little to no oversight to ensure that the money is spent responsibly or that the elected bodies adhere to their own bylaws or the statutes of the B.C. Society Act.

The union fees collected by the university, college or institution are mandatory, as is membership with the existing student society. It’s mandatory and automatic. Anyone seeking a post-secondary education must, by default, join their institution’s student society, making these societies as much a part of the school as anything else, such as classes or the school’s administration.

A post-secondary institution, of course, has no say over how these student societies run, and rightly so. However, if a student — i.e., a union member — takes issue with how the union is being run, thinks the union is in violation of a bylaw, there’s little recourse for them.

As members of a student society, we are guaranteed access under the Society Act to financial records, auditor reports, meeting minutes, etc. However, if we don’t get access, or if the records are incomplete or unnecessarily censored, there’s nothing we can do without hiring a lawyer, which we obviously can’t afford to do.
[ Page 119 ]

While I can’t speak directly to the situation at other post-secondary institutions, I can tell you that Langara Students Union, which controls the fees that are mandatorily collected by the college on their behalf, operates entirely behind closed doors and seems to do everything in its power to keep it that way.

I know that journalist and Langara alumnus Stanley Tromp mentioned the LSU briefly in his presentation before this committee on Monday, November 9. As student journalists, it is our duty to keep the public informed about the issues that affect them — in this case, how millions of dollars of their money is being spent by a group of inexperienced people with little to no oversight.

Every year, the LSU council designates a new elected member to act as their immediate liaison. That person is our sole point of contact. All other elected members and paid staff are barred from talking to us under any circumstances, citing LSU policies that aren’t available on their website or anywhere else and that they won’t show us a written copy of. The media liaison, regardless of who it is, is often hard to reach and, as often as not, leaves us without comment before deadline.

Efforts to get the information we want ourselves are equally frustrating. The LSU bylaws require all members, not just those in the media, to give 48 hours notice to inspect any and all documents to which we’re legally entitled. The bylaws do not specify any specific officer or adviser or staff member or councillor who must be present to release these documents.

This fall, the LSU cancelled their annual elections two days into their four-day polling. When we asked why, we were refused comment. Eventually a brief release was posted on the LSU website, saying that the elections had been cancelled due to “numerous irregularities.” No further explanation has been given. When the LSU finally announced new elections two weeks ago, all the previous candidates were still on the ballot, leading to renewed questions about what exactly had prompted them to cancel the original elections. But once again, no explanation has been given, nor, at this point, frankly, do we expect that there will be.


When one of our reporters went down to the LSU office to look over their budget information to determine how much the cancelled election had cost, he was told that they couldn’t release those documents to him, despite acknowledging they’d received his request over 48 hours before. When the reporter asked why, they said that they couldn’t share those documents without the financial officer present. I remind you that there is no language in the LSU bylaws saying that any specific person is needed to release documents to members.

I myself encountered a similar situation two weeks ago. I submitted my request to view financial documents and meeting minutes to the LSU and was told they would let me know when the documents were ready. I waited a week and a half without hearing from them and eventually went down to see if they were ready.

The budget and auditor’s reports that I asked for were there, but only because they had been lumped in with another reporter’s request. The regular meeting minutes, the annual general meeting minutes and list of elected members and paid staff, all documents that should by rights be readily available and public, were not there. When I asked for the rest of the documents and handed them a printed copy of my request, I was told that they had never received it. However, this isn’t possible, as the other reporter hadn’t asked for the auditor’s reports, essentially proving that they had in fact received my request.

In the end, I was told that they needed more time to find the documents I’d requested, and I’m still waiting to hear whether they’ve located anything.

In the interests of full disclosure, the bylaw pertaining to inspection of records at the LSU, article XIII, doesn’t give any timeline for compliance with requests by members, not even the traditionally ambiguous reference to “a timely manner.”

Of course, when we do get to see the documents we request, it doesn’t necessarily do us any good. LSU bylaws require that anyone inspecting any documents be supervised by staff or an elected member, even when inspecting something as seemingly benign as regular council meeting minutes, “to ensure” — I quote directly from LSU bylaw article XIII — “that records are not reproduced or noted in any way.”

This policy not only makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to ensure accuracy or any kind of in-depth analysis in our reporting; it also makes it virtually impossible for any member to analyze and understand how the millions of dollars of students’ money is being spent.

Adding to the culture of secrecy at the LSU, all meetings are conducted behind closed doors. The public and membership are not allowed to attend these meetings, as per article 5.14, called “Closed council meetings,” of the LSU bylaws.

In addition, an unknown number of meetings are conducted in camera and off the books, making it impossible to fully know what the union is doing or how decisions about the spending of students’ money are being made.

As required by the Society Act and its own bylaws, the LSU does hold annual general meetings. However, for the last three years these have been held in late June or July, always in the middle of the day and midweek when the majority of the public who fund the LSU throughout the year are not present and are often not even enrolled. This past summer, enrolment at Langara was little over half what it is this fall, just to give a bit of context.

The timing of the meeting, when, as I said, enrolment is half what it is during the fall or spring and at a time when most people are at work, appears to be a further effort to limit the members’ access to those in power at the LSU.
[ Page 120 ]

It’s also worth noting that the LSU council only sits between September and April, according to their own bylaws. They aren’t even in session when the AGM happens.

The extreme level of secrecy at the LSU allows them to operate however they want and do whatever they want with few to no checks and balances. The lack of oversight for the LSU and other student societies in our province has led to many instances of malfeasance over the years, from election irregularities to mismanaged funds and, in at least one recent extreme case, alleged embezzlement.

Between 2005 and 2011 the Kwantlen Student Association was embroiled in a series of scandals connected to their one-time director of finance and chairperson of the board, Aaron Takhar, and the Reduce All Fees slate of candidates, including mismanaged and missing funds, election improprieties and more lawsuits than I can count.


PricewaterhouseCoopers was commissioned in 2006 to do a forensic audit of the association. That audit found nearly $150,000 of student funds had been spent without supporting documents, including $67,000 paid to Takhar’s consulting firm, AST Ventures. AST are Takhar’s initials. The society had also given out $620,000 in high-risk and unsecured loans, plus a $200,000 loan from a fund that was designated strictly for KSA health and dental expenses.

Despite the KSA launching a lawsuit against Takhar, the allegations in the audit were never proven in court. It’s because relatives of Takhar’s were later elected to the executive board of the KSA. One of them was designated the board’s sole contact with the legal team and subsequently instructed them, with the support of the board, to drop the suit.

To the best of my knowledge, none of that money was ever recovered. That’s not even the entirety of the KSA saga. A quick Google search can fill you in on all the other details.

Of course, issues involving student societies are not always, or even often, because of malicious intent by its elected members. These are young people with little to no experience in politics, finance, law or leadership. Many, if not most, of them are often in it for a bump to their resumés. For example, a student at Langara who wants to transfer to UBC has to have extracurricular activities, like student government, on his or her resumé in order to get accepted. He or she may have no interest in it otherwise.

Turnover in these organizations is also a factor. In general, students are only in post-secondary for two to four years. While again, I can’t speak to the bylaws and practices at other student societies, under the LSU’s current bylaws, elected members aren’t allowed to hold the same position for more than one term — i.e., year — and may not serve more than two terms total during their time at college, virtually guaranteeing a perpetually inexperienced council.

It is our position that if student societies were subject to FOIPP Act, they could better be held accountable to their public membership, which mandatorily pays its fees through public institutions. FOIPPA requests can be costly, but they’re far cheaper than court cases and more readily available for the public to use — especially students.

Though it would do nothing to force the LSU’s media liaison to talk to our reporters more or things like that, it would give us one more tool in our tool belt by which to hold them accountable. Perhaps by ensuring a little transparency, they’ll be better able to serve their constituents.

D. McRae (Chair): Thank you very much, James. You and Owen took up about 18 minutes, which allows us 12 minutes for questions if committee members have such.

K. Corrigan: Thank you, Owen and James. I’m Kathy Corrigan, MLA for Burnaby–Deer Lake, but I’m also the Official Opposition spokesperson for Advanced Education. Not only because of the content as it relates to what we’re doing on this committee; I’m also interested because of my role as spokesperson.

I’m wondering. We’ve had submissions suggesting that subsidiaries at post-secondary institutions or other government bodies should be FOIable. Are there other, comparable types of organizations? I’m thinking of the Legal Services Society, which is another society, which is FOIable.

But student unions’ funding comes entirely — or, I would assume, almost entirely — not from government, but from the students themselves. I’m wondering if you see that as a distinction or a reason why we couldn’t include student unions. Have you done any looking at trying to get comparables to what you’re suggesting?

O. Munro: I think, mostly, if students specifically are paying these mandatory fees, we haven’t exactly looked into any sort of comparables. But what we have looked into is how these student fees relate to what they get in terms of funding, and that being FOIable, at least to ensure some sort of transparency and accountability for how they end up spending those fees.


But no, we haven’t looked at many other comparables, such as the legal society that you brought up.

K. Corrigan: Great, thank you.

D. Eby: I very much appreciate your presentation. I’m very concerned about the information you presented about what’s happening at Langara, as an advocate for open government and transparency at all levels.

One of the challenges I have, though, is the old adage: “Hard cases make bad law.” If all the allegations that you’re making are true, designing the Freedom of Information
[ Page 121 ]
Act to respond to a serious issue at a single college…. Not to say that there haven’t been issues at other student unions, but there haven’t been other student unions that…. I was reading about the 2012 referendum, for example, where students at Langara apparently voted in favour of restricting their own access to meeting minutes and these kinds of things — a very unusual situation.

Can you tell me about how unique these issues are to Langara and why it would be that students would actually vote in favour of restricting their own access to information from their student government instead of voting for what you’re suggesting, which was expanding public access to those documents?

J. Smith: That was before either of us were at Langara, so I can’t necessarily speak directly to it. I can say, from my off-the-record conversations with LSU staff…. They explained that their concerns were a combination of worries about being misquoted. We’re student journalists, and they’re students as well. Obviously, both parties are trying to learn how to negotiate the situation and how to best do their job.

Student journalists make mistakes. Those mistakes and alleged misquotes were part of the reason why the LSU did not want student journalists or students in general at the meetings. Another reason is because, basically, it made them uncomfortable. It made them worry that they couldn’t openly discuss things and couldn’t…. They were too worried about making a mistake, publicly, to effectively discuss and make decisions.

D. Eby: I definitely understand why the student government would be in favour of amendments that would restrict public access and help them control messaging. We’ve seen that inclination in various levels of government that restrict transparency and restrict access to documents. What I don’t understand is…. It looks like there was a referendum in 2012 — unfortunately, you can’t speak to that — where the students, as a whole, at Langara…. Admittedly, there was low voter turnout, but they voted in favour of restricting access.

It seems like there’s been a bit of a shift, if what you’re telling the committee is accurate. So if I could just get you to comment on how unique the situation is at Langara — whether the change made by this committee would put undue bureaucratic obligations on to a number of small committees with, admittedly, large amounts of money at the university level but limited resources to fulfil freedom-of-information requests and whether we do that for the entire province to respond to a single situation at Langara.

O. Munro: If I can take this one. This isn’t necessarily a situation that is unique to Langara. This is a situation where many other student unions — whether it be Kwantlen, UBC, Douglas College…. This is happening all over, not just Langara. So if we could have some sort of FOIable system where we can at least see the minutes that these meetings have produced, even if it wasn’t an in-camera meeting, and have some sort of accountability that way….

These are elected members that we students have elected to represent us. They represent the interests and needs of every student. It’s definitely not a situation that is unique to Langara.


J. Smith: Using the example of the Kwantlen Student Association and that whole situation, the executive board members and that were a group of friends and relatives of Takhar. Even when the meeting minutes and that kind of thing are publicly available, as they are with some student associations…. They do put their minutes and financial records and that on line and openly available in their offices. That doesn’t necessarily let us know how a group of students, like in the KSA example — which, admittedly, is an extreme example — would coordinate their efforts outside of the meetings.

FOI access to things like e-mail records and that would help uncover things like that kind of alleged corruption and collusion in order to maybe stop the problem before it gets out of hand.

D. McRae (Chair): Kathy, I believe, has one more question.

K. Corrigan: It’s similar to my earlier question. And I would like to echo what Mr. Eby said. I really do appreciate your presentation and the work that you do.

What I’m wrestling with is what we define as government. I think that FOI legislation is meant to cover government and government bodies. What I’m trying to figure out is: is a student union a government body? Maybe it can be extended to bodies that are funded by government bodies or to programs that are done for the purposes of providing public services.

I’m wrestling a bit with that concept of whether or not a student union is a government-related body. I’m wondering if you’ve got any comments on that.

J. Smith: I believe that the student unions are different from other societies, such as trade unions, in that there’s no option about membership. In your career, you can choose to join a union workplace or a non-union workplace. Depending on your career, that choice can be very limited, but it is there. If you want a post-secondary education, which you have to have these days, you have to join these unions. You’re not really given a choice in the matter. As I said, it’s mandatory, and it’s automatic.

For us, that makes a student union a de facto part of the post-secondary institution, even though the post-secondary institution doesn’t have any say over how not
[ Page 122 ]
just the LSU but the student societies run. In that way, I think it’s different. It’s kind of a unique situation compared to other societies covered by the Society Act or the FOI people.

O. Munro: I think, as well, there’s…. You look at some of the functions that LSU and all student unions have. They have elections, and that’s one of the major fundamentals, I believe, of having a governmental body. I kind of equate it to, if we can imagine, some other form of government holding an election and then closing it because of numerous irregularities and not giving the people that they represent a chance to have their voice heard. I feel like that is very much functioning like a governmental body.

They make decisions that are based on behalf of students. They advocate for students. But again, I go back to the election thing as something that’s very much like a governmental body. I think, in that context, they should be regarded as a governmental body.

J. Smith: Also, the money the LSU manages is coming from students. A good chunk of that money is coming from the government through student loans and student grants as well. And the LSU…. Sorry, I keep saying the LSU, and I mean to be more general. The student unions advocate for students and have, often, a seat on the college or university board, which puts them essentially as an elected member on the governing body of a public body.

Again, that lends itself to my argument that they are a de facto part of that public body.

D. McRae (Chair): Perfect. Thank you very much.

It is 9:05. I’m going to ask the committee for a very short recess while we connect with our next presenter via teleconference. We’ll resume in a couple of minutes.

Thank you very much, Langara.

The committee recessed from 9:05 a.m. to 9:09 a.m.

[D. McRae in the chair.]

D. McRae (Chair): We’re going to resume the committee deliberations. We are joined via teleconference by Tamir Israel, joining us from Ottawa.

Tamir, you are being joined with five committee members right now. By practice of the committee, we would ask that you do a presentation of approximately 20 minutes — less if you need to. Then I will allow the committee members ten minutes to have a question-and-answer period with you as well. Are you okay with that?


T. Israel: Yes, that’s great. Thank you.

D. McRae (Chair): Perfect. Tamir, it is now, according to my watch, 9:10. I will turn the floor over to you, sir.

T. Israel: Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. As the Chairman mentioned, my name is Tamir Israel, and I’m staff lawyer with CIPPIC, the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, at the University of Ottawa’s faculty of law. I’m also a member in good standing of the Law Society of Upper Canada. CIPPIC is grateful for the opportunity to provide our input into this committee’s review of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

CIPPIC is a law and technology clinic that works to advance the public interest in policy debates at the intersection of law and technology, which is our core mandate. We additionally provide pro bono legal assistance to under-represented organizations and individuals on law and technology issues and provide legal and public education on related matters.

CIPPIC’s expertise in this field has evolved through its myriad public advocacy activities on this front, which include interventions at various levels of court, involvement in Internet governance–related matters before various quasi-judicial tribunals and international fora, the publication of academic and research reports on Internet-related issues and expert testimony before parliamentary committees such as this one.

While CIPPIC has wide-ranging interests in issues related to privacy, data protection and freedom of information, I have been asked today to provide an overview of potential implications arising from trade agreements for B.C. FIPPA’s data localization mechanism encoded in section 30.1.

My comments today will therefore present a change of pace from testimony heard so far by this committee, as I’ll be restricted to that topic. We do, however, reserve the option of providing a more comprehensive written submission within your comment period, and I will also make available to you my oral comments today in writing, with some annotations and references, in case you want to read further.

In my comments today, I’ll first provide an overview of section 30.1 in the foreign intelligence context, followed by an overview of recent developments in trade agreements, and then I will close with some details on specific or potential implications of trade agreements for section 30.1 of B.C. FIPPA.

At the outset, I’ll address section 30.1 by way of background. However, the core of my submission will relate to the trade implications. As the committee is aware, section 30.1 was enacted out of concern that outsourcing of storage of Canadian data, and particularly of health information, to the United States would subject this data to an excessive investigative context that places few limits on state data-gathering activities.
[ Page 123 ]

The passing of the U.S.A. Patriot Act was, at the time, pointed to as an example of the expansive powers granted to the United States agencies. However, a less notorious yet far more serious United States law, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, is the true source of concern for Canadian data. It provides United States intelligence agencies — primarily, the National Security Agency — near limitless powers to access information of foreigners.

While these powers are so broad they incidentally capture significant amounts of U.S. data, they at least provide some minimal protection for non-foreigners, in the nature of restrictions on use, further disclosure and identity suppression. These protections are not available for data of foreigners.

The NSA has not hesitated to make full use of its expansive powers, and documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden demonstrate that the agency obtains an average of 100 million pieces of data from United States–based computer networks on an average day.

A detailed qualitative analysis of NSA’s stored data obtained by the Washington Post demonstrates the expansive nature of the resulting data collection programs. This analysis found that only 10 percent of the 11,000 individuals whose data was present in the sample were actual NSA targets, the rest being individuals whose data was collaterally captured in getting to those 10 percent.

Given the minimal technical and legal constraints on the NSA, no effort is made to discard files openly acknowledged by the NSA itself to be irrelevant. Regarding the quality of this collateral impact, the Washington Post describes it as such: “Many other files, described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained, have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic, quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes.” The individual profiles themselves specifically included medical records, resumés, children’s academic transcripts and sensitive pictures, described by the Washington Post as risqué.


The foreign intelligence framework put in place by the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which grants the NSA carte blanche regarding the privacy of foreigners, is starkly at odds with the interconnected nature of our modern global digital activity.

Canada, it should be noted, is not immune from this paradigm, as our own foreign intelligence agency, the Communications Security Establishment, or CSE, is granted similar leeway when gathering information of non-Canadians, as are other foreign intelligence agencies around the world. Collectively, this entire paradigm creates significant cross-border challenges for those governments hoping to provide some measure of privacy for their citizens while still finding ways to participate in the global communications infrastructure.

Data localization restrictions, such as that encoded in B.C. FIPPA’s section 1, 30.1, Nova Scotia’s Personal Information International Disclosure Protection Act and Australia’s Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Act, provide examples of these attempts.

Territorial restrictions of this nature are not a silver bullet, however. They fail to directly address the underlying problem, which is the disregard for privacy of foreigners that is at the heart of many foreign intelligence frameworks. Even with data localization measures, foreign intelligence agencies can — and regularly do — reach into foreign territories and compromise data centres remotely.

Gaining this type of remote access requires greater practical effort, has accompanying exposure risks and lacks the ease associated with compelling a domestically present company to merely comply with access orders. Nonetheless, remote access is pervasively employed by foreign intelligence agencies. Moreover, these agencies situate themselves at key points in the global communications infrastructure and capture significant amounts of data in transit.

On the other hand, territorial restrictions can lead to greater privacy by increasing the difficulty by which foreign intelligence agencies can gain access to such data. Moreover, they can lead to the adoption of stronger privacy protections more generally. For example, concern over foreign intelligence agencies, such as the NSA, has pushed companies such as Microsoft to develop clouds based in local data centres in several jurisdictions, including Canada, India, Germany and Ireland, as well as to seek legal recognition of this data segmentation scheme in U.S. courts.

It has also provided the B.C. government, as you are likely aware, with the incentive and impetus to negotiate enhanced protection, such as tokenization schemes, with a foreign-based cloud computing company and services.

Notably, it has provided the basis for negotiations between the European Union and the United States, with the object of securing better protection for EU citizens within the United States foreign intelligence framework. These negotiations arose in response to a decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union invalidating the ability of private companies to transfer data to the United States because such companies cannot provide protection against the NSA’s excessive foreign intelligence regime. These bilateral EU-U.S. negotiations regarding the need to adopt protections for EU citizen data within the United States foreign intelligence regime only arose out of the EU’s data transfer restrictions.

With this general discussion of the potential and limits of data localization as a means of safeguarding domestic data against foreign state agencies in mind, I now turn to a discussion of recent developments in trade frameworks and their potential implications for this specific data localization regime.
[ Page 124 ]

Some general background on trade agreements. While earlier ways of trade agreements have had as their primary object the reduction of tariffs as a means of trade liberalization, more recent trade initiatives have begun to address significant elements of domestic regulation in an attempt to harmonize and set specific standards.

The result of this shift is that impact of trade agreements is no longer primarily economic in nature, and the potential of such agreements to undermine the ability of states to protect their citizens is high.

The trend in question has taken hold in earnest with respect to domestic intellectual property laws and is beginning to encompass a growing range of the digital ecosystem that primarily falls to provincial control under Canada’s constitutional scheme. This includes privacy protection, e-commerce, transactional protections and neutrality obligations.

The trend poses significant issues for democratic legitimacy, as the autonomy granted, to the executive branch of the federal government in particular, to enter into foreign policy commitments in secret and without meaningful consultation with the public is broad.


Where this autonomy was historically limited to negotiating trade quotas and tariffs by practice, the impact of these processes on domestic regulatory policy was more limited. However, trade agreements today include significant and detailed obligations regarding domestic regulatory regimes, and this trend is only likely to intensify in the future, meaning that the impact on domestic regulatory regimes, such as B.C. FIPPA, is likely to be an ongoing process.

The shortcomings of the trade process as an instrument of legitimate democratic policy-making are significant. The instruments are negotiated in highly secretive contexts with substantive texts outside the reach of not only the public and of freedom-of-information laws but even of parliamentarians. This creates difficulties in attempts to ensure that the policy outcomes, which are ultimately encoded in trade agreements, reflect the public interests, as the public is effectively locked out of the policy development stage.

I take an aside to note that this is not necessarily something that is within your purview to address, but it does form the basic backdrop of the agreements that you are dealing with, will have to deal with, now as well as in the future.

Once a trade agreement is completed, it is presented to the public as a fait accompli. Increasingly, the obligations undertaken in trade agreements are detailed and specific, allowing for minimal latitude in how these are ultimately encoded in domestic legislation or action. This leaves any ex post democratic protections an inadequate safeguard for ensuring balanced public policy.

Even without legislative action, trade commitments can have direct impact on domestic policy and law. Our courts will interpret, for example, ambiguities in domestic legislation in a manner that presumes compliance with international commitments such as trade agreements. Even where commitments undertaken in a trade agreement do not make their way into domestic legislation or judicial decisions directly, the ability to enforce trade commitments can impose heavy consequences for domestic governments operating regulatory regimes that do not comply with these.

There are, in essence, two types of enforcement mechanisms that have taken root in trade agreements in recent years. I’ll just explain them briefly.

The first and more insidious of the two is the inclusion of investor-state dispute resolutions, commonly referred to as ISDS, rights that grant foreign investors the right to sue domestic governments in international tribunals as a means of challenging regulatory actions of those governments. This is a powerful instrument placed in the hands of one set of stakeholders, foreign investors, while ignoring all others.

A second only somewhat less concerning means of enforcing trade obligations is through the inclusion of bilateral dispute resolution measures, referred to commonly as simply dispute resolution, which allow one state government to sue another over perceived violations of rights. The ambiguous nature of trade language has meant that these dispute resolution mechanisms can sometimes lead to surprising and unpredictable outcomes.

For example, in 2005, a World Trade Organization appellate body upheld an Antigua and Barbuda lawsuit that emerged from a series of United States laws designed to prevent on-line gambling. This lawsuit succeeded, even though the United States had not intended to make any trade commitments relating to the regulation of gambling at all. The remedy granted to Antigua was the right to violate U.S. intellectual property laws in order to recover its annual losses, estimated at $21 million a year, until the United States Legislature took steps to address the repudiated gambling regulation.

Dispute resolution mechanisms can even be used by foreign governments or investors, as the case may be, to challenge the results of domestic judicial decisions interpreting laws previously thought to be compliant with trade obligations in a manner that negatively impacts the party in question.

For example, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly recently filed a $500 million lawsuit, under NAFTA’s investor-state dispute settlement regime, against the federal Canadian government. The lawsuit arose out of a Supreme Court of Canada decision that evolved patent obligations in a manner designed to prevent patent holders from claiming patent protection over outcomes that are never realized.

It is notable that the public interest is not only locked out of the trade commitment development process but also locked out of the ex post judicial development of
[ Page 125 ]
these commitments. In democracies, lawsuits, class actions and constitutional challenges can be launched by individuals and companies alike. Under the trade regime, however, it is only companies or states that can initiate such processes.


Moreover, whereas in most democracies, constitutional restraints exist as an ultimate limit on the impact of regulator action, the highest consideration in the application of trade commitments becomes the overriding need to limit barriers to trade.

Currently this creates an atmosphere where it is difficult for any gold standard to emerge or prevail. There have already been documented instances in Canada, for example, where the spectre of trade enforcement was used to chill certain public policy initiatives that would have set higher protection standards — primarily in the environmental protection context.

In this regard, Eli Lilly’s stated justification for challenging Canadian patent law under NAFTA is telling. The quote here from the Eli Lilly representative is that they didn’t like the result of the Supreme Court decision, but they also say: “We’re afraid it can lead to other countries attempting to undermine intellectual property in similar ways.”

The decision was held by other commentators to be very reasonable and a positive advancement of intellectual property laws and patent laws.

In addition, a country that first adopts a higher standard may have a harder time justifying the standard in question in the manner required by many trade agreement prohibitions.

Now, all of this is by way of background, but it does have specific implications for any potential defence of section 30.1. So against this backdrop, data localization rules, such as those of British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Australia and India, have all been explicitly and increasingly targeted, primarily by United States–based information technology industry groups and, as a result, by the United States trade representative.

This has made data localization a live issue in three major regional agreements, which include the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, referred to as the TPP; its east coast counterpart, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the TTIP; and the global Trade in Services Agreement, referred to as TISA.

Each of these agreements includes similar sets of commitments, modified for the particular regional context and negotiated outcomes that limit data localization requirements. The commitments adopted in these agreements are co-extensive, meaning that Canada will be subject to all of these, in addition to its existing commitments under NAFTA, GATT and GATS.

The most salient features of these new agreements is the electronic commerce chapter. This chapter directly addresses privacy generally as well as data localization laws specifically. The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement’s — from now on in my comments, I’ll refer to it as TPP — e-commerce chapter includes explicit data localization restrictions, as does a leaked draft of the Trade in Services Agreement, which is still being negotiated.

While the TPP e-commerce chapter was initially reported as imposing limitations on private and public sectors alike, the final version, as adopted, excludes government procurement and government data collection from its scope. This effectively immunizes B.C. FIPPA’s section 30.1. However, the finalized TPP provision is nonetheless instructive, as it may be applied to state action in future agreements.

The provision adopts a general prohibition on state attempts to prevent cross-border transfer of information as well as from requiring the local presence of computing facilities. States can depart from these prohibitions but only if a rigid justification test is met. This test includes a need to prove that the restriction in question does not extend further than strictly necessary to achieve a legitimate public policy objective.

In the context of section of 30.1, if the public policy objective is established to be placing barriers on the ability of foreign intelligence agencies to access personal information of Canadians, then the onus will be on the government to demonstrate that the provision does, in fact, achieve its objective.

The data localization restrictions in TISA’s, which is the still-being-negotiated counterpart to the TPP, most recently leaked e-commerce chapter are even more restrictive. To begin with, they apply to private and public sector action alike. Moreover, they adopt a categorical prohibition to data localization that brooks no limitation. This may change over time as the text gets negotiated.


Both TISA’s and TPP’s e-commerce chapters are subject to enforcement through state-to-state dispute resolution. The TPP also includes an investor-state dispute resolution chapter, which, in its final iteration, does not apply to the rights granted in its e-commerce chapter.

As a result, even if TPP’s explicit data localization obligations were applied to the public sector, the Canadian government would not be subject to direct company-initiated lawsuits over section 30.1 arising from the e-commerce chapter. However, the TPP’s investor-state dispute settlement regime does grant foreign investors the right to sue governments over any treatment of domestic companies or companies of another country that is more favourable in like circumstances than that according to its own company.

I know I’m near the end. Can I just take another half a minute?

D. McRae (Chair): You can have 30 seconds. It will take away from our question-and-answer period, but 30 seconds is yours.
[ Page 126 ]

T. Israel: I’ll finish it really quickly. The viability of section 30.1, under this regime, will largely turn on what is considered like treatment. This will turn on the government’s ability to demonstrate that the distinction drawn by the provision between Canadian-based and foreign data storage is based on real differences between the two.

I’ll just say very briefly that there has been one trade decision that has acknowledged that data localization can be justified under these more generalized types of obligations. However, it requires a very detailed explanation of why specific countries or the countries that are being restricted from providing the storage in question need to specifically be excluded from the procurement in question.

I’ll just finish off there. Thank you for the additional time.

D. McRae (Chair): Well, thank you very much. I know I have two questions.

D. Routley (Deputy Chair): Two things, Mr. Israel. Thank you very much for your presentation. It was very helpful.

The first would be…. We heard, at a recent conference, from Lisa Austin from the University of Toronto, who pointed out that should B.C.’s personal information be stored in the United States, we, of course, are not protected by Fourth Amendment rights as non-resident foreigners.

She also indicated that we would surrender our Canadian Charter rights, because any search of that information from across border — the agency making that search — would not be required to respect our Charter rights. That would be the first question. Do you agree that that would be a consequence of storing information in the U.S.?

Then secondly, provinces have made different reservations under TPP. Alberta has reserved their Legislative Assembly as well as all officers of the Legislative Assembly, and Nova Scotia has reserved their chief information officer as well as their health chief information officer, whereas B.C. has only reserved the Legislative Assembly. Could you share with us what you think the implications of those reservation choices are?

T. Israel: Sure. To the first issue, the foreign intelligence paradigm that, particularly, the NSA but also other agencies operate under has as its underlying presumption the mistaken, in my view and increasingly in the view of international law, but strongly held assumption that privacy essentially ends at your territorial borders. Again, this is not limited to the U.S. Canada applies the same standard to non-Canadians.

The result of this is the unfortunate reality that yes, a Canadian whose data is being accessed by an agency in the U.S. and who is not in the U.S. at the time, even though their data is, cannot assert any constitutional privacy right at all, which is a real gap when you consider how globally integrated our communications are. So the answer to the first question is yes. The moment the data is being accessed from the United States through the aegis of a U.S. company who has control over that data, there is no privacy right that the Canadian affected can really assert.


Now, this does apply, as well, if the U.S. agency hacks into, say, a Canadian-based data centre holding the same data. Arguably, though, there are other issues there that could violate Canadian criminal law, for example, or other types of laws in Canada that could, in theory, be raised against the agency in a way that couldn’t happen, necessarily, if the data was only stored in the U.S. I hope that answers question 1.

To question 2….

D. Routley (Deputy Chair): Just before you go there, could international treaty-making that would extend a person’s citizenship rights along with their data across borders — is that a reasonable solution under agreements that we now are subject to?

T. Israel: The problem there is the international human rights instruments, which are universally the broadest adopted and ratified instruments on the planet, do not have the powerful enforcement mechanisms that come in the trade context. So my argument would….

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that privacy should be treated as applying extraterritorially and should be respected even with respect to foreigners, but governments like the United States — and Canada, in its own practices — do not accede to that, and there’s no way to compel them to by going to an international tribunal in the way that an obligation in a trade agreement can be enforced.

So the answer is yes and no. Yes, technically, but there’s no way to impose that practice onto U.S. agencies. What’s happening now between the E.U. and the U.S. as a result of the…. Data has been cut off from flowing to the United States, but the Court of Justice in the European Union has said that there are not sufficient guarantees for European citizens’ data. So now this forces the United States to negotiate with the U.S.-specific protections for European citizens’ data.

There’s no other…. It’s very difficult to get there from a practical perspective. It’s really the challenge on that. Data localization limits are one of the few ways that you can negotiate those types of protections, just as they are a key impetus for negotiating additional privacy protections, such as tokenization with specific service providers.

Very quickly, to the second question. Yes, reservations can play a role. Under TPP and with the specific context of the e-commerce chapter…. I think the answer
[ Page 127 ]
is: definitely it would have been, probably, better to get a broader set of reservations that would have provided more latitude for this type of activity, for the B.C. government more broadly. But as it stands, the reservations won’t help under TPP. They may under future agreements, if that is undertaken.

D. McRae (Chair): Thank you very much. In the reflection of brevity, we are down to about two minutes. So I wonder, Kathy, if you could ask a quick question, and hopefully Tamir could answer a quick answer. We’ll see if we have time to squeeze in David Eby’s question at the end.

K. Corrigan: Thank you very much. I share your concern about the impact of trade agreements, particularly on subnational governments that have not been involved in negotiating those trade agreements and yet are subject to them as well.

I just wanted to clarify, though. You were saying that the TPP has excluded government. So that would reflect the safety of 30.1 as far as we’re concerned. You’re talking about like treatment. But as long as we have the exclusion, then we are not being subjected to the like treatment. It’s simply an excluded area, so we’re, so far, protected. Is that correct?

T. Israel: Yes. Sorry, I think I rushed through the end there. There is an explicit prohibition on data localization that does not apply, but there is a more general like-treatment requirement of general application that could apply. It’s not designed for this type of thing, but it could apply.

It’s hard to predict what a trade tribunal will do, unfortunately. But creating a more concrete record for why the restriction is there is a prophylactic against that type of thing.

D. McRae (Chair): We have time for a quick question and a quick answer, from David Eby.

D. Eby: Maybe just a request that Mr. Israel…. I have a lot of questions but, unfortunately, no time. I would hope that you would follow this up with a written submission with specific recommendations for this committee in relation to our job here, which is to make recommendations related to the amendment of B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.


A lot of interesting international trade questions you’ve raised. Very difficult for this committee to incorporate amendments to TPP or other international trade agreements. So specific to B.C., if you have a list of recommendations for this committee, I’d love to hear them, because I share your concerns. I’m just not sure of the extent of our committee’s work at that level.

T. Israel: If I could respond really briefly, I think I wanted to provide some assurance that you’re probably under no immediate trade obligation to change section 30.1. We will try to provide more detailed comments on that as well as on some other elements of the law, as it is something that we’re interested in.

D. McRae (Chair): Tamir, thank you very much for your presentation. Adding to what David Eby was just saying, we can take a written submission up to January 29, 2016. Thank you very much for your oral presentation, and if you wish to submit one in writing, it would be much appreciated by committee members. Thank you for joining us today.

T. Israel: Thanks for having me.

D. McRae (Chair): I would ask Rob Wipond to come join us, please.

Rob, I know you’ve been here for the last several presentations. We try to keep the actual oral presentation to 20 minutes and then ten minutes for questions and answers. Since you’re actually here in person, I will maybe give you a hand signal if you get close to your 20 minutes and you’re going strong. I just open the floor to you.

R. Wipond: Yes, I’m going to monitor my time here, too, and maybe just cut some things out if I feel like I’m going a little too quickly.

Good morning. I’m a freelance investigative journalist based in Victoria, and I’ve been using information access law for two decades. One of the topic areas that I research and write about is surveillance and privacy. I’m going to review some examples that show why we need more information access and privacy monitoring, enforcement and penalties, and then I’m going to focus on a very specific recommendation for an addition to schedule 2 of FIPPA.

Laws covering information and privacy have become some of the most important laws of our time. Issues of surveillance, privacy and citizens’ rights to know what their governments are doing are central to democracy. The role you are playing right now in reviewing FIPPA is arguably one of the most important tasks facing our government.

FIPPA is valuable legislation. It has, unfortunately, been steadily weakened while it desperately needs to be strengthened. For example, the government received excellent feedback from a public committee that it organized to provide input about the B.C. Services Card. Their report is valuable reading, and I found it inspiring to see how much a diverse group of ordinary citizens, through the process, came to truly understand and care about protecting privacy and about the dangers of surveillance.

As far as I have seen, the government has, by and large, ignored their input and has significantly weakened pri-
[ Page 128 ]
vacy law in this province to facilitate the B.C. Services Card and related interlinked data-tracking systems, with no clear or persuasive rationale. Where is that leading?

In Britain today, there are systems that integrate data from social services, health, policing and schools. Children and families cannot exist outside the control of a virtually all-seeing government. Is that the kind of society that you want to help create?

Just imagine a government that is slightly nastier or more ideologically driven by ideas about race or class or crime or mental health or welfare or rebellious tendencies. Once in place, how will that kind of system be used by such a government? Do the purported future benefits really outweigh the risks? Not according to the government’s own citizens committee.

What should we do? I’ll start by comparing this province’s situation to one that is in utter collapse: Canada’s federal information and privacy laws. These examples are doubly relevant because British Columbia seems to be gradually moving towards the federal model.

Essentially, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada have investigative powers but little in the way of meaningful enforcement powers. So there’s an ever-expanding list of cases where the OPC and the OIC have found that information and privacy laws are being broken, and they haven’t been able to do anything about it.

Not long ago, for example, the federal Information Commissioner went public with her complaints that the RCMP is regularly breaking information access laws, including simply ignoring access requests for years on end and destroying information. Health Canada is notorious for stonewalling requests for years. In both cases, access requests of my own were involved.


Similarly, the Privacy Commissioner has publicly identified programs at federal agencies that are in breach of privacy law but has not been able to prevent or stop them.

Here in B.C., we have many of the same problems. I’ve had tiny information requests take years. However, unlike those federal offices, the OIPC also has some actual order-making powers. The commissioner can, in some circumstances, force an agency into compliance with the law. Even when that power is not used, it helps significantly that it is there as a caution and a warning.

My main frustration is that we too often aren’t even enforcing the laws we have now, which at least are better than the federal ones. In my opinion, FIPPA would be much better if it provided broader powers to proactively monitor, enforce and administer penalties. I’ll give some examples.

A couple of years ago, I discovered that many public schools in the Western Communities just west of Victoria had installed surveillance cameras outside and inside the schools. The school board had even authorized the use of cameras in children’s washrooms, and they would allow access to the saved video feeds. I started asking questions.

The last I heard, the school board had at least begun communicating with the OIPC about coming into compliance with the law. But it’s an apt illustration of how these kinds of things are just happening around the province without oversight. We need proactive monitoring of what’s going on out there. Incidentally, the B.C. government has passed legislation specifically giving schools more ways to bypass FIPPA.

Another example. I discovered that the city of Vancouver’s downtown surveillance cameras and saved video feeds were routinely being used in contravention of the city’s own publicly stated policies, and it had been going on that way for years.

Another example. B.C. municipal police boards are supposed to provide a level of open citizen oversight on the police. Police boards are, therefore, required by law to give reasons for going in camera at meetings and to provide the uncensored minutes to the Ministry of Justice in confidence. The Justice Ministry has refused to answer my questions as to whether anyone actually ever reviews those reasons and determines whether they are reasonable or not. Are B.C. police boards routinely breaking the law? We don’t know. We need proactive monitoring and enforcement.

Another example. Not long ago, B.C. police were building a program of mass surveillance called automatic licence plate recognition, modelled after similar programs in the U.S. and U.K., where a mix of stationary and police car–mounted cameras constantly snap photos of every single car on the roads and store information about the licence plate, the date and time and the precise location of every vehicle. Over time, this builds an astonishing database of information about every driver’s whereabouts at all times.

I, a technology expert and a privacy expert investigated this and discovered that the system was operating in contravention of B.C. law, plain and simple. It was an illegal surveillance program gathering information on the activities of innocent citizens and being run by our own police forces. We presented evidence to the OIPC. They decided to investigate, and sure enough, the OIPC found that the program was illegal.

Notably, we also learned that both federal and B.C. commissioners had reviewed and expressed concerns about that program in the planning stages, but neither had the legal authority to prevent the program. We need to proactively monitor and enforce the laws that are on the books.

Another example. The buying and selling of information about people and their activities is a multi-billion-dollar industry in North America, and it’s growing rapidly. Privacy data breaches and identity theft are becoming more common, and they can and do destroy people’s lives. There needs to be more proactive monitoring in that area as well.
[ Page 129 ]

Subsidiaries. This issue has been brought up to you repeatedly, so I won’t go into it here, but I’m certainly in agreement that subsidiaries of public institutions should be held accountable under FIPPA.

Erasing history. We clearly need a law more strongly outlining a duty to document in the public service and penalties for breaking FIPPA. I’m sure you’ve heard a great deal on that issue. I, too, have seen many cases of government workers deliberately not keeping or illegally erasing or conveniently not finding important information that was subject to an access request. I’ve read e-mails where senior bureaucrats were instructing others to delete important e-mails. You can see examples of these sitting on the B.C. government’s Open Information website.

To be clear, I’m not saying that it’s the common practice of average public employees. On the contrary, in my experience, most average public employees are proud of their work and want their work properly recorded, filed and known about by the public.


From what I’ve seen, the directives to not keep records, to miss records and to delete records are usually politically motivated, and they emerge from the most senior personnel within the public service that are working the most closely with elected politicians. That’s why I was not surprised to see the recent revelations about those kinds of actions happening in the Office of the Premier.

If you feel any inclination at all to defend such practices, I ask you again: please, just imagine a situation where we have a government in power that you personally are less sympathetic to. How would you feel about it then? Are you sure this is the kind of society you want to help create?

Now I want to spend the rest of my time on an issue about which I am particularly knowledgable. It is a request for a very specific, small, but extremely important change to FIPPA. In an April 2014 letter to the B.C. government, Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham recommended that the British Columbia Association of Chiefs of Police and the British Columbia Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police be declared to be public bodies and be added to schedule 2 of FIPPA by an act of legislation “at the earliest opportunity.”

Are you aware of this? Why hasn’t it happened? Perhaps in our question-and-answer session, some of you will comment on this. I am also curious to know if anyone representing B.C.’s municipal police chiefs has presented to this committee. During past reviews, someone has always come to make arguments about ways in which B.C. municipal police should not be subject to FIPPA.

What’s interesting, though, is that the police chiefs do not do it themselves — most likely because it’s not something that most police boards would authorize their chiefs to do. As representatives of the public interest, most police boards, I think, would not want to be publicly seen as setting out to make their police departments vastly more secretive. So someone else often does the presentations to this committee.

Who? Well, that’s an interesting question. Let’s go to the Hansard record to find out. On January 21, 2004, a man named Volker Helmuth presented to the committee reviewing FIPPA. He began: “I’m the information and privacy coordinator for the Vancouver police department, but I’m appearing today on behalf of and as representative of the British Columbia Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police.” He spent most of his time arguing why municipal police shouldn’t be subject to FIPPA.

During the Q and A, MLA Joy MacPhail said to Mr. Helmuth: “I will start by saying that I’m taken aback completely by your presentation. First of all, could you tell me why this letterhead is of Jamie Graham, the chief constable?” — of the Vancouver police department — “Is he the head of the association or something? I’m sorry, I don’t….”

The confusion that Ms. MacPhail is experiencing is important and telling. She is wondering why a staff member of a municipal police department is giving arguments to a legislative committee about what municipal police departments supposedly want, while he is actually representing a private lobby group, but then is providing these arguments on official municipal police department letterhead.

Ms. MacPhail is wondering who exactly this person is speaking for. Who is paying him? She never gets a clear answer.

I’ve been writing about these two associations, the B.C. Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police and the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, for several years. After my long information-access battle to get copies of at least some of the minutes of their meetings through a roundabout route, I immediately started to express my concerns and provide evidence to the OIPC.

A number of other organizations, like B.C. Civil Liberties, the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association and Pivot Legal, have reviewed the evidence and expressed their concerns to the OIPC as well. That is what led to the OIPC looking into the issue. Ultimately, the commissioner made her recommendation to government that the associations should be declared to be public bodies and added to schedule 2.

That’s partly because, 11 years later, today, that same confusion that Ms. MacPhail was experiencing still exists, and the commissioner’s recommendation is an attempt to clear up the confusion. No one really knows what these associations really are or who they really represent.

However, they are extremely important and influential in matters of public policing in B.C. What I can tell you is that they both claim to be private groups not subject to FIPPA. Yet what I can also tell you is that both associations often claim to officially represent public police forces in this province.

They make many policing governance decisions; help craft legislation for the provincial government; share
[ Page 130 ]
highly confidential policing information that often travels overseas; appoint policing representatives to important public agencies; and along with senior B.C. policing and security personnel, include among their members official representatives from the B.C. Ministry of Justice, CSIS, Canada Border Services, the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Drug Enforcement agency.

It does sound like a collaboration of public bodies, doesn’t it? But their meetings and decisions are not subject to FIPPA?


Meanwhile, both associations also claim to be simply comprised of private citizens in a private group. One of them includes members who represent private sector companies, and they engage in activities like fundraising for their group, lobbying, and public relations activities on controversial matters of public policy, like federal surveillance legislation and changes to FIPPA.

The upshot of this confusion that Ms. MacPhail was intuitively wondering about is, for example, that the police officer members of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police take money from the Canadian Bankers Association to further the goals of their private group. And at the very same meetings, they make decisions about how to improve official police responses to crimes at banks.

Stay with that. Yes, that’s me cutting a cheque to support your bowling team and you, during that same meeting, committing to support legislation that creates new grants for freelance journalists like me. That’s about as blatant an example of inappropriate conflict of interest in public servants as could be dreamed of. Most police agencies have policies forbidding such practices, but these organizations are not transparent to the public, and they function without accountability to the public.

Both the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police and the Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police need to be added, via legislation, to schedule 2 of FIPPA and made appropriately subject to FIPPA, as our public police departments and police boards are. This is necessary so that you as our elected politicians, B.C. police boards and B.C. citizens at least have a window into how our police are being governed in this province.

It is vital, too, for the Ministry of Justice to draft legislation to ensure that the governance of policing in B.C. is properly under the control of government and not under the control of two private groups. But if the Justice Ministry is going to continue to avoid doing the right thing, then hopefully at least being exposed through the window of FIPPA will help push these public employees to do what’s right.

You can do what’s right. Add these police chief associations to schedule 2 of FIPPA.

D. McRae (Chair): Thank you very much. We have up to 13 minutes for questions.

D. Eby: Thank you, Mr. Wipond, for coming. It’s nice to put a face to the name.

Can you advise what the context was for the commissioner’s recommendation around these two associations that you’re recommending be added to the schedule for the act? Why was the commissioner engaged with that? What was the context for that recommendation?

R. Wipond: Largely, for some of these things I’m pointing out to you, we had gone through a process of trying to find out…. I was trying to find out what these associations were up to. They declared themselves to be private groups not subject to FIPPA. Mediation occurred, and all sorts of evidence started to gather. I just basically started passing information to the commissioner’s office, saying: “I think you should look into this, because what we’re talking about here is what looks to me like a public body operating outside the auspices of FIPPA.”

It was within her jurisdiction to look at it. She looked at it, and she invited submissions from anyone. Both the associations submitted. I submitted. Some of the private, non-profit groups I mentioned submitted. And then she made a recommendation.

In her letter, which is on her website and available to all of you to see, she not only makes her recommendations but includes all of our submissions as well. It’s a very educational document. You see that the associations do not resist the idea of becoming subject to FIPPA, but neither do they endorse it. I don’t know why it hasn’t happened. No one actually said they shouldn’t be, but it still hasn’t happened.

D. Eby: I can advise you…. I’m not aware that we have had any presentations from the chiefs of police or from any municipal police departments, but it may be useful for us to hear from them on this point.

The second question I have is in relation to the B.C. Services Card input that you mentioned. What, specifically, coming out of that B.C. Services Card input would you recommend that this committee focus on in terms of our potential amendments recommended to the Legislature?

R. Wipond: Oh, gosh. I’d just say you’ve got to read it. Really, I’m not an expert on that particular thing. B.C. Civil Liberties, I think, has been looking at that a lot and would provide great input on that. But I just found that it really, most importantly, impressed upon the government the significance of what was happening and the importance of getting it under control. I had some concern that that didn’t seem to be followed.


K. Corrigan: Thank you for your presentation. I notice that with regard to the automatic licence plate recognition program, you say: “We also learned that both feder-
[ Page 131 ]
al and B.C. commissioners had reviewed and expressed concerns about that program in its planning stages, but neither had legal authority to prevent the program.”

Was that an opinion that was expressed by the commissioner — that there is no authority to proactively take a look at actions of government until there is a complaint afterwards?

R. Wipond: That’s not an opinion they’ve given. As far as I know, that’s the way it is. That’s the law. They just simply try to coerce and pressure and suggest. They go into public venues and express their concerns — sometimes later, if the thing keeps continuing. Essentially, they don’t have that authority. I found documented evidence, at length, of them expressing some of the same concerns that we ultimately had and that were ultimately proven to be illegal.

D. McRae (Chair): Are there other questions from the committee?

Thank you very much for your presentation, sir. Like it was said earlier, your presentation, obviously, goes into Hansard on record, but if you wish to add a written submission, we’ll take that up to January 29 of 2016.

If I could ask the committee to take a short recess for two minutes, and we will resume. We’re going to be joined by the regional district of Central Kootenay via video conference. We’ll recess for two minutes.

The committee recessed from 10:01 a.m. to 10:06 a.m.

[D. McRae in the chair.]

D. McRae (Chair): We are now being joined via video conference by Bronwen Bird from the regional district of Central Kootenay.

Bronwen, we haven’t used this technology a lot, but we’ve done it a couple of times. Hopefully, you will be able to see and hear us. We can see and hear you. By practice of the committee, we’d ask for a 20-minute presentation, if that’s what you have. Then that would allow committee members ten minutes to have questions and answers for further follow-up if necessary.

I’m a little congested today, but I will do my best to run a meeting on time. According to my watch here, it is 10:07, and I will turn the floor over to you.

B. Bird: Good morning. Thank you for this opportunity to speak. My name is Bronwen Bird. I’m the records and information management analyst for the regional district of Central Kootenay.

Our head office is located here in Nelson, B.C. The RDCK is responsible for providing services such as building inspection, land use planning, waste and recycling, recreation services and many other services to the Central Kootenay region. In my role, I’m responsible for implementing a records management program for the RDCK as well as processing the freedom-of-information requests that we receive.

I’m going to begin with what I view as the most pressing issue regarding freedom of information in B.C., which is the duty to assist. Section 6 of the act states: “The head of a public body must make every reasonable effort to assist applicants and to respond without delay to each applicant openly, accurately and completely.” This section is very clear, and in my opinion, it captures the spirit of the act, which is to make public bodies transparent and accountable and to provide information to the public without unnecessary delay.

However, this duty to assist is not always upheld. I’m going to briefly describe an experience that the RDCK had earlier this year with a provincial ministry. The RDCK made a request for records on February 25 of this year, and this ministry responded the next day to acknowledge our request and to inform us that the 30-business-day time limit was April 10. It was a fairly large request. So I was prepared that the ministry might require a time extension to respond.

A month later we received a fee estimate, which we paid. Another month later, on April 29, we received another fee estimate, which we also paid. At this point, we requested an update on the timeline for the request, since they had exceeded the 30-business-day time limit and they had not informed us of taking a time extension under section 10. We received no response to this request for an update.

Another month later, on May 21, we requested again for an update on the timeline. The response that we received from the ministry was that they went past the due date because of an administrative error. We made a complaint to this ministry the next day, requesting an explanation of this administrative error, and once again we requested details on an expected time frame for the release of records.

Another month later, on June 22, we had to remind the ministry that we were expecting a response to our complaint. The ministry informed us that the administrative error was that they did not take an extension under section 10 and that they hoped to send records to us soon. As well, they would waive the remainder of the fee.


This is now four months since we submitted our request. We had paid two fees, and we still had no records. At this point, we made a complaint to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

The OIPC office told us that the ministry would send us records by July 3 at the latest. We did not receive a response by this date, so our file was transferred to an investigator. We finally received the records we requested on July 6.

Once we received the records, our OIPC file was closed, because the only issue with our complaint was the min-
[ Page 132 ]
istry’s failure to respond to our request. Since the ministry eventually responded to our request, albeit 59 business days late, the OIPC considered the issue to be resolved, and there was no reason to continue the investigation.

As I’m sure you can imagine, this situation was very frustrating for us. It was frustrating to witness the ministry’s blatant disregard of their duty to assist and to inform us of the time limit extension. But what was most frustrating was that even though the ministry was 59 business days late in disclosing the records to us and we had paid two fees, our complaint file was closed once we received the records, and there was no consequence to the ministry.

There needs to be a consequence for breaching the act. I’m sure the RDCK’s experience with this ministry is not unique, and if public bodies are allowed to take unwarranted extensions and fail in their duty to assist, it completely undermines the act and the concepts of transparency and accountability.

In the 2010 report of the special committee, several submissions had brought up this issue about public bodies making a reasonable effort to assist, and those submissions proposed penalties. Despite these submissions, the special committee did not recommend imposing penalties, but rather, it felt that it is more important to waive fees to provide some kind of incentive for heads of public bodies who breach the duty to assist.

I feel that this decision should be reconsidered and that a recommendation for penalties be implemented if a public body does not make every reasonable effort to assist applicants. Waiving fees is not an adequate incentive for public bodies to not breach the duty to assist. In fact, I believe that by only waiving fees, there really is no incentive at all for public bodies to not breach the duty to assist. What about requests that do not incur a fee, such as requests for an individual’s own personal information or a request where the fee is small? Where is the incentive to respond to those requests?

Penalties against public bodies for breaching freedom-of-information legislation is not an uncommon thing. This is seen in the freedom-of-information legislation of several countries around the world — for example, Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia, to name only three. The legislation of these countries and others imposes fines against public bodies for a misdemeanor, such as failing to communicate accurate and complete information, failing to provide the public information requested within the prescribed time limit, as well as destroying or concealing records with the intention of making such information inaccessible to the public.

B.C. should follow the example of these countries and the many others that have penalties for breaching freedom-of-information legislation. There could be set fines, or there could be a fine for each day beyond the day that the request should have been responded to, not exceeding a determined amount. Penalties such as this would be a much stronger incentive for public bodies, including provincial ministries, to respond to requests without delay and to uphold the act. I urge the committee to seriously consider penalties because it is clear that merely waiving fees isn’t working.

My second point regards the time limit for responding. The 30-business-day time frame should not be changed. I can see how some people will view the 30 business days as a long response time, especially if there are further time extensions. However, for some cases, this time frame is perfectly adequate, especially for large and complex requests. I have processed requests where there are several hundred pages of responsive records. It takes time to read through those pages and make decisions on whether information needs to be severed.

Speaking from my own experience, there are also times when you are processing multiple FOI requests at the same time. For some requests, they can be processed very quickly — in a day or two, maybe a week — but this is not the case with all requests.

Furthermore, if there is information that could be harmful to personal privacy or third-party interests, the affected parties need to be notified, which takes additional time.

I feel like it comes down to public bodies making internal policies and procedures about responding to FOI requests and having adequate training and resources to ensure timely responses as opposed to changing the response time in the act. So long as public bodies are abiding by their duty to assist, then timely responses shouldn’t be a problem.


Problems with time limits arise when public bodies fail to make a reasonable effort to assist applicants of FOI requests. It is this lack of reasonable assistance which is the problem that really needs to be fixed.

A possible solution is what I mentioned before, which is penalties for public bodies. Without adequate consequences, it feels like public bodies are sometimes able to get away with it, when it comes to taking extensions and disregarding time limits.

My third point speaks to the relationship between records management and freedom of information. Timely responses to freedom-of-information requests are dependent on good records management. Proper records management can help with locating and retrieving records, reducing fees and allowing public bodies to process the requests quicker rather than wasting time trying to locate a record.

I’ve experienced this myself, in which the bad records management practices of 20, 30, even 40 years ago have affected my ability to respond quickly to an FOI request. I’ve had to spend several hours going through poorly organized microfiche slides from 30 to 40 years ago, and I’ve had to search through several boxes of poorly labelled files from 20 years ago trying to find a responsive record.
[ Page 133 ]

You can imagine my excitement when I found the records I was looking for — but not without much difficulty. It’s because of these difficulties that I’m very glad to be implementing much better records management practices here at the RDCK. Just like other public bodies, we do still have a ways to go, but we’re implementing changes that will benefit us as well as the public now and into the future.

However, based on reports such as the recent OIPC report on the deletion of e-mails in the provincial government and the lack of documentation, it is clear that records management practices need to be improved significantly.

This includes documenting business activities, organizing and filing records according to a clear and usable filing system, and retaining records according to an approved retention schedule, only deleting or destroying records that have reached their final disposition and there are no further actions, including being responsive to an FOI request, that require those records to be kept.

The act should require public bodies to properly maintain their records, cataloguing and indexing them in such a way that it facilitates the right of access to information.

I agree with the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, who presented in Vancouver last month, that there should be a duty to document and retain records. This point was also brought up by Laura Millar, who presented in Vancouver last week. She used the example of the State Records Act of the government of New South Wales in Australia, which requires governments to create accurate records and retain those records as long as required.

Recordkeeping requirements are also seen in the freedom-of-information legislation of other countries, such as India, Antigua and Barbuda, for example. B.C. would do well to follow their example.

My final point speaks to proactive disclosure. The benefits of proactive disclosure are plentiful. It promotes accountability and openness. It provides the public with access to information that allows them to participate in the decision-making of public bodies. It also encourages public bodies to manage their records and information more effectively and helps with reducing the amount of requests for information by routinely providing information that can be easily provided without a formal request.

According to section 71 of the act, “the head of a public body must establish categories of records that are in the custody or under the control of the public body and are available to the public without a request for access under this Act.”

However, without a minimum standard of what these categories of records are, the standards for proactive disclosure will vary widely across public bodies. Some public bodies will be very thorough in establishing categories of records, whereas others may only establish a few. There should be a minimum standard established which details the classes of information that should be proactively disclosed by public bodies.

This could include policies, descriptions of services offered to the public, budget and other financial information, information on public procurement processes, publications and information about open meetings. Furthermore, this information should be easily accessible on the websites of public bodies.

The RDCK currently puts information such as financial reports, bylaws, open meeting minutes and other documents on our website, and we will continue to work on proactively disclosing records. But there would be a great benefit to having a list of records and information prescribed by the act that must be proactively disclosed by all public bodies and be organized in a meaningful way.


Additionally, there should be requirements in the act for public bodies to proactively disclose accurate and complete information, unless information can be withheld under the act. This information should also be regularly updated within a reasonable amount of time to remain accurate and valuable to the public.

In conclusion, I feel like B.C. still has a ways to go to ensure that the ideas of transparency, accountability and open government are not just words but the reality of how our public bodies operate. I feel like many citizens make FOI requests already thinking that they’re going to face delays and will receive records with half the words blacked out, if any records at all.

If you look at the freedom-of-information audit from this year that was prepared for Newspapers Canada, you can understand why this sentiment exists. The audit shows that at all levels of government across Canada, several public bodies received poor or failing grades for the release of information and the timeliness of response. Furthermore, this sentiment isn’t helped by recent media stories, such as the OIPC’s report on the deletion of e-mails in the provincial government, particularly e-mails that responded to a request about the Highway of Tears.

Overall, I do believe the act is strong and sound. The problem is mainly with the failure of public bodies to follow the act and the failure to uphold the spirit of the act. Public bodies should not be allowed to take unnecessary extensions and charge exorbitant fees. Public bodies should not disregard their duty to assist and should face penalties if they do so.

My hope is that the special committee will make strong recommendations that will address the many issues that have been brought up today, as well as in the past meetings regarding the act, and that these recommendations will result in meaningful changes. As well, I hope that B.C. will become a standard of excellence for freedom of information, both in Canada and internationally.

To summarize my recommendations to the special committee, first, the act should be amended to include
[ Page 134 ]
penalties against the head of a public body for breaching the duty to assist. Second, the time limit for responding should remain at 30 business days. Third, the act should be amended to include recordkeeping requirements, including the duty to document and retain records. Finally, the act should be amended to include a list of classes of information that should be proactively disclosed by public bodies. Proactively disclosed information should be complete and accurate, organized in a meaningful way and regularly updated.

Thank you very much for listening.

D. McRae (Chair): Thank you, Bronwen. I’m sure we have some questions.

K. Corrigan: Thank you so much for your presentation. I only have one short question, but I want to make a comment first. It’s really heartening to see a public body talking about the responsibilities under the act and acknowledging and supporting the fact that there are responsibilities and that government should take those responsibilities seriously. They should follow the act and stand up for the ability of citizens to be able to access information. It was great to see that we had a regional district making this kind of presentation,

Now, it’s interesting that you’re not only subject to the act, but you also use the act as well. Your concern was partially based on the fact that you didn’t have access or you had difficulties with the request — those kinds of timeline difficulties and some of the other difficulties that you expressed. I’m sure you’re aware that those are the same kinds of difficulties that we’ve heard repeatedly in presentations before this committee.

I’d also point out that you might be heartened to know that the submission that we’re receiving today from the Information and Privacy Commissioner makes many of the same recommendations that you are making. So there you go. You and the Privacy Commissioner — or the office — agree on that.

Finally, my very, very short question was: do you mind sharing which ministry it was that you had the difficulties with?

B. Bird: It was the Ministry of Environment.

K. Corrigan: Great. Thanks for the presentation. It was very helpful.

D. McRae (Chair): That was a short question.

K. Corrigan: A long preamble, short question.

D. McRae (Chair): And a great answer.

D. Eby: The recommendation around proactive disclosure — in it, you include a short list. You say this could include policies, budget and other financial information, public procurement information, publications and information about open meetings.

Is there anything that’s not in that list that you think this committee should consider in terms of requiring proactive disclosure? And then is there anything on that list that you would say absolutely should be on and is not currently regularly being posted?


Many of the things on the list, I would say, most cities and ministries would be proactively disclosing already. Is there anything on the list that stands out for you that they’re not doing and anything that’s not on the list that we should think about?

B. Bird: Not exactly. I can definitely go back and compile a more detailed list and provide that to you later.

Mostly, it’s information about how the public body is operating. The one thing that most public bodies probably don’t include is the documents or the information that they compile in order to make a decision. They’ll post…. In the open meetings, you’ll have the decision, but there won’t be the records that were created or used in order to come up with that decision in the decision-making process — any reports that are submitted or any other information of that nature.

D. Eby: If you could provide that list, that would be helpful to us in our deliberations.

B. Bird: Definitely. I believe I have until January to submit information. Is that correct?

D. McRae (Chair): January 29, 2016. We have your submission already, but if you wish to add to it, by all means, we would like to take that information.

Are there other questions from the panel members?

Bronwen, thank you very much for joining us via teleconference. Enjoy your time in Nelson.

D. McRae (Chair): We are moving fast and furious. I notice that staff from the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services have joined us. I know we’re a little bit ahead of schedule, but if they’re willing, we can start early.

I’ll take a recess for maybe one minute to allow them to get organized and for everybody else to stretch their legs.

The committee recessed from 10:26 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

[D. McRae in the chair.]

D. McRae (Chair): Ladies and gentlemen in the audience and at home, we are being joined by the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services for their second visit to the committee.
[ Page 135 ]

Before we begin, though, I would like to just address one issue. About three weeks ago, if my memory is clear, I received a letter from Minister Virk regarding some recommendations. As Chair of that committee, I then shared that letter with all members of the committee and the Clerk’s office. We have it in our files. However, we take it as part of the submission from the ministry.

At this stage, if it’s possible, I would like to invite Bette-Jo to introduce yourself and the staff who are joining you, although we’ve met you before. Also, I’ll just remind everybody that we have scheduled 30 minutes for this presentation and 30 minutes for questions and answers, if they so happen afterwards. Again, welcome to the committee.

Full disclosure. I get tired of saying it, but I am ill. I’m going to stay as far away from as many people as I possibly can, except for poor Susan, who has to sit beside me the entire time.

B. Hughes: Well, thank you, Mr. Chair. Unfortunately, I’m probably sharing the same bug. I apologize if I passed it on to you at the privacy conference last week.

Thank you, Mr. Chair, Deputy Chair and all members of the committee. I’d like to thank the committee for the opportunity to present to you today. As the Chair mentioned, my name Bette-Jo Hughes, and I am the government chief information officer and an associate deputy minister with the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services.

With me today are two of my colleagues. To my right is Sharon Plater, who is the executive director of our privacy and legislation branch and a recognized subject matter expert on the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. To my left here is Wes Boyd, the assistant deputy minister who is responsible for information access operations.

I’m particularly honoured to have been selected as the spokesperson to present government’s views on how the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act is working and, perhaps more importantly, where we see opportunities for improvement.

Government is excited to contribute to this valuable process and looks forward to hearing the views of the committee, as well as other interested stakeholders, on how we can continue to build and enhance this legislation, given the solid foundation we have set thus far.

In preparation for its submission, government undertook consultations with all ministries and Crown corporations. The views I will be presenting today are the result of government’s analysis of that input, along with its determination and assessment of the key challenges, opportunities and priorities that exist.

I’ll just take a brief moment to outline what we plan to discuss on the agenda here today. Before I do that, however, I would like to advise the committee that government will be providing a formal written submission in addition to the presentation I am providing today.

One of our goals today is to set the stage and context for the committee with respect to what our current environment looks like and the impacts and influences on information and privacy. I will be touching on data residency. We know this is of key interest to many public bodies, including the broader public sector, who continue to grapple with perceived limitations stemming from the privacy act provisions.

Our goal here will be to highlight a new optimism in terms of B.C.’s place in the global and international privacy community. I will be providing an update to our access-to-information environment, and by doing so, we hope to provide some insight into how this landscape influences our understanding of what access really means in today’s digital age, particularly as we look to the availability of metadata.

Government is committed to maintaining and enhancing privacy standards to address some of the issues presented by these new challenges and has ideas for ways that balance can be achieved by increasing mechanisms that will allow for greater proactive disclosure.

Next on the agenda, we are going to cover privacy in greater detail and, in particular, government’s current vision on how privacy can be strengthened. We are particularly proud and excited about the launch of the privacy management accountability program or PMAP, as we refer to it. We feel that this policy, along with some key legislative amendments, will go a long way to getting us closer to where we need to be.

Finally, I will cover some much-needed housekeeping changes to the legislation.

As we have heard time and again — and as, I’m certain, others who have already presented or will be presenting or submitting to the committee can attest — FOIPPA remains an essential piece of legislation that underpins our democratic rights and freedoms.


Government plays an important role with respect to ensuring the legislation works effectively and achieves the right balance between providing seamless and timely access to government records and information while securing and protecting personal privacy.

Finding this balance is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s technological environment, with the vastness of data and information available to us, the speed at which it is created and challenges faced in securing and protecting data as it goes through necessary information-sharing channels.

Government has the willingness and knowledge and is eager to build on the tools it has at its disposal, as well as seeking out new frontiers to meet this challenge and achieve this balance. We have the ability to look to our international partners, both in industry and government, for best practices. New international standards around information, privacy and security are setting increasingly high bars for data protection, while at the same
[ Page 136 ]
time, leading technology firms are implementing measures that go beyond what any government is able to do.

It is my sincere hope that today’s presentation will give the committee some understanding of the key challenges we face and provide you with some insightful suggestions that you can take away and carefully consider as you prepare your final recommendations.

Speaking to data residency. In 2001, the United States enacted the U.S.A. Patriot Act, allowing the FBI to conduct electronic surveillance and oblige American companies with offices in countries like Canada to provide access to sensitive personal information. Obviously, this generated quite a stir in the privacy community, as it meant that any entity using American data services became vulnerable to these new authorities.

In response to these concerns, FOIPPA was amended in 2004 to include a robust set of data residency requirements, with the aim to ensure that B.C.’s personal information remains outside the grasp of foreign law enforcement. As many of you are aware, these requirements establish that a public body must ensure that personal information in its custody and under its control can only be stored, accessed or disclosed within Canada unless specific conditions are met, as outlined in the act. These data residency provisions help to ensure that the Patriot Act and any similar legislation do not negatively impact the privacy of British Columbians.

Many within ministries and the broader public sector, however, have noted that it is at times challenging to take advantage of new and emerging technology available outside of Canada. As public bodies are required to ensure data remains within our borders, FOIPPA-compliant services that meet the unique needs of some public bodies can be scarce.

I am often challenged, both by public and private sector colleagues, regarding what some see as the overly restrictive data residency obligations in B.C.’s FOIPP Act. I do not believe that we need to reduce our legal requirement to protect the personal information of British Columbians in order to take advantage of advances in technology and cloud-based services, as long as the appropriate safeguards are in place.

As a matter of fact, Canada is witnessing an increase in the number of corporate entities who are willing to accommodate our data residency provisions in order to do business.

Maintaining the data residency provisions will assist B.C. in remaining an attractive business partner to other jurisdictions by ensuring our privacy standards continue to meet those of our peers, such as the European Union, whose data protection directive has set the bar for privacy internationally.

This year, the safe harbour agreement, which allowed U.S. companies working in Europe to self-certify their compliance with the EU data protection directive, was ruled invalid by the EU Court of Justice. This ruling is likely to have a significant impact on thousands of U.S.-based companies who relied on this agreement to do business in Europe.

The court’s dismissal of the safe harbour agreement is a strong signal to the rest of the world that the EU is serious about upholding their data protection standards at all costs. In that light, B.C. must ensure that our FOIPP Act remains on par with global privacy leaders to remain a viable partner in business and trade.

Government remains assured that B.C.’s current data residency provisions provide an effective level of data protection in a continually evolving technological environment. These provisions not only align with the EU’s public sector data protection directive but also match — and in many aspects, exceed — current standards, such as ISO 27018, which set the bar for the private sector in the realm of cloud computing.


Moving on to access to information, it cannot be denied that B.C.’s population is active when it comes to exercising its access rights. We think this is positive in that it greatly contributes to ensuring that the legislation remains relevant to the citizens of British Columbia.

The B.C. government receives between 8,000 and 10,000 freedom-of-information requests per year. The total cost of processing an FOI request is approximately $2,300 per request. The number of general requests has increased more than twofold since 2008-2009, when government centralized its freedom-of-information services.

In 2013-14, we fulfilled more freedom-of-information requests than all of the prairie provinces combined in that same year. We received 30 times more requests than the Newfoundland and Labrador government ministries. Compared to a larger province like Ontario, the B.C. government receives twice as many requests per capita. These statistics are particularly significant when set against the digital environment and landscape I mentioned earlier.

All large organizations, including governments, manage the steady increase of information with comprehensive IT systems. From e-mail to case management software, these systems help government run as efficiently as possible.

As a by-product of the many data functions these systems perform, a massive amount of metadata is produced. Metadata is data that describes other data and is used to summarize basic information, such as the author, the date and time an item is created or modified or the location of a file or folder. While this metadata is very useful for system evaluation and maintenance, its availability in large quantities poses a new problem for government.

Though once considered benign to many, metadata found in government e-mail and server logs is beginning to generate interest from knowledgable freedom-of-information applicants who file requests for these logs spanning large time frames. A responsive records
[ Page 137 ]
package for one of these requests can include millions of lines of data, which public bodies must process and prepare for disclosure.

More concerning is the prospect of freedom-of-information applicants using this data in combination with other data that is readily available through social media and other sources to undertake surveillance of the habits of government employees. This is referred to as the mosaic effect, which a former commissioner’s order described as when seemingly innocuous information is linked with other already available information, thus yielding information that is not innocuous and, in the access-to-information context, is excepted from disclosure under the act.

In the March 2015 investigation report into the use of employee monitoring software by the district of Saanich, the commissioner states that “employees do not check their privacy rights at the office door” and that these rights “must be respected by public bodies as they consider what security controls are necessary to protect information in government networks.”

What is the solution, and how can we ensure that delicate balance between privacy and access is maintained? As with any piece of legislation that has been in existence for some time, I think the first step is acknowledging that perhaps, in its original crafting, the legislation never contemplated the technologies and data available today, such as metadata.

We need to modernize and update the legislation to address the issues posed by metadata. Doing so will maximize public trust, transparency and accountability while at the same time balance the privacy rights of the individuals whose information is contained in this metadata.

Having said this, government also sees opportunities for promoting greater transparency by utilizing current mechanisms afforded within the legislation that allow for proactive disclosure. Specifically, more records could be made available via section 77.1 of the legislation, which speaks to records made available under mandatory categories of release.

Currently this provision lends itself only to those records that would otherwise be available for full release and therefore would not require redaction due to the fact that they may contain sensitive personal information. A minor amendment to this section would enable government ministries to consider the potential for proactively releasing other categories of records if they had the ability to remove otherwise sensitive personal information beforehand.


Along these lines, section 25 speaks to the mandatory requirement for ministries to proactively release information which is clearly in the public interest. It is applicable only and appropriately reserved for proactive disclosures of a serious nature — for example, environmental or health crises which directly impact the public. The reason for this is that section 25 overrides all other exceptions to disclosure, including the exception that protects personal information.

Newfoundland and Labrador has adopted a more measured approach to the release of information that is in the public interest. This approach also requires the proactive release of information, but the information that must be released is measured against and commensurate with the nature of the exception being overridden. In particular, the bar for releasing personal information is higher than that for other types of information.

Taking a similar approach here in B.C. may provide a means of protecting privacy while still releasing information when it is clearly in the public’s interest to do so.

Another improvement to access will be the inclusion of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police to FOIPPA. The commissioner has recommended that the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police and the B.C. Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police be added as public bodies to schedule 2 of FOIPPA.

The B.C. Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police is not a registered society and, by extension, not a legal entity. Therefore, it cannot be covered by legislation. With regard to the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, government is drafting an amendment that will change the definition of a “local public body” to include a police association. This change will cover the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police as soon as the amendment is passed and will allow the B.C. Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police to be covered once it is a legal entity.

Moving on to strengthening privacy. As I mentioned at the outset, FOIPPA provides us with a solid foundation from which we can build and continue to enhance current privacy practices. Over the last year, government has been working diligently on a comprehensive privacy policy aimed at strengthening privacy practices across government ministries and which can be leveraged by the broader public sector to help guide and encourage them to adopt similar frameworks and processes.

We are very proud to say we are finally going to see the fruits of this hard work with the up-and-coming launch of the privacy management and accountability policy. This comprehensive policy was developed with consideration of materials produced internationally and also by the B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner.

The PMAP will enshrine in policy the requirement for all ministries to have a ministry privacy officer, and I’m pleased to report that most ministries have already appointed a ministry privacy officer in anticipation of the policy. They will be responsible for implementing the PMAP throughout every ministry. They will also be responsible for a number of tasks, which include documenting the ministries’ personal information through a personal information inventory; reviewing privacy impact assessments, information-sharing agreements and research agreements; and developing ministry-specific privacy training.
[ Page 138 ]

Ministries will also be required to conduct privacy audits and ensure that staff who handle personal information receive annual refresher training on top of the mandatory initial privacy training required of all staff. Most importantly, the PMAP enhances ministry accountability and will make it easier for ministries to comply with mandatory assessment tools, agreements, and breach reporting and auditing requirements.

Having said this, there are nevertheless a number of key legislative amendment items that have been identified that can also further strengthen privacy practices. These include revision of the data-linking provisions, updating and clarifying the existing privacy impact assessment provisions, incorporating mandatory breach notification requirements, and streamlining and expanding the commissioner’s powers and processes. I’ll go through each of those in turn.

Revision of the data-linking provisions has been on both the commissioner’s and government’s radar for some time. Following amendments made to the legislation in 2011, the commissioner expressed concern that the provisions as currently written were not achieving their intended policy outcomes. Simply stated, it was felt that the definition of what constituted a data-linking initiative was too narrow and failed to capture the types of activities that should be subject to the commissioner’s oversight.

Government embarked on extensive consultations with the commissioner’s office and has developed a new legislative scheme that will meet the needs of all stakeholders.

With regard to conducting privacy impact assessments, or PIAs, these continue to be an internationally accepted best practice for evaluating and mitigating risks at the development stage of any public program, initiative or system. In 2011, we expanded and enhanced existing PIA requirements to include all public bodies and oversight by the commissioner.


Nevertheless, over the course of time, a few clarification issues have come to light. These include a lack of explicit authority for the minister responsible for the act to direct ministries to carry out and submit PIAs; a lack of clarity that ministries must do PIAs on current enactments, systems, projects, programs and activities, where directed by the minister, and all changes to these initiatives, including expansions of data-linking initiatives; a lack of clarity that ministries must inform the minister responsible for the act of new, or changes to existing, information-sharing agreements and personal information banks for the purpose of inclusion in the personal information directory; and also, a lack of clarification that only one PIA need be done if several public bodies are involved in data linking. Government is ready to propose changes to the legislation that will effectively address these issues.

Moving on to mandatory breach notification requirements. A number of high-profile privacy breaches reported within government over the years have placed a spotlight on the issue of privacy breach management. While it can be acknowledged that information incidents can, ultimately, never be eliminated entirely anywhere where the potential for human error exists, strengthening proactive measures that mitigate the potential for such incidents to occur in the first place is the best way to tackle this issue.

As you may be aware, both the 2008 and 2015 special committees that reviewed the Personal Information Protection Act, or PIPA, B.C.’s private sector privacy legislation, recommended that mandatory privacy breach notifications be incorporated into PIPA. The commissioner is supportive of this recommendation and has asked government to enshrine mandatory breach notifications within FOIPPA as well.

Government already provides monthly reports to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner about each privacy incident investigated by the office of the chief information officer. When we become aware of an incident that is considered a serious privacy breach, government continues to report directly to the commissioner.

Obviously, the biggest impact with such a requirement will be felt by the broader public sector bodies, which may not have the same reporting practices and infrastructure. Government has committed to addressing the mandatory breach notifications within PIPA at the next available legislative opportunity and welcomes any similar recommendations in this regard with respect to FOIPPA as a means of maintaining harmony between both pieces of legislation and meeting international privacy best practices.

Moving on to the commissioner’s powers and processes. Both the 2004 and 2010 special committees to review FOIPPA recommended that the commissioner’s processes be unified and streamlined in order to provide greater clarity and accessibility for the public as well as allow for operational efficiencies for the commissioner’s office. The commissioner has expressed support for a revamping of the act’s provisions respecting these processes and, in particular, has called for harmony and consistency with PIPA with respect to these provisions.

The proposed changes aim to resolve ambiguities stemming from terminology for dealing with complaints, reviews and investigations where these respective terms appear to be interchangeable, overlapping and inconsistent. In addition, while the commissioner can require public bodies and organizations to stop collecting personal information or fine ministries for violating data residency provisions in FOIPPA, the commissioner cannot impose a temporary or definitive ban on the processing of personal information by a body, which is a power that many of her counterparts hold in other jurisdictions such as the European Union.
[ Page 139 ]

Amendments to the legislation would resolve these issues by clarifying and consolidating the commissioner’s processes for investigating complaints and conducting reviews, and the terminology used to describe those processes; provide greater flexibility with respect to applying dispute resolution methods best suited to the issues at hand; and expand the commissioner’s oversight with regard to personal data-processing compliance issues, which will serve to better align FOIPPA with other leading global privacy legislation.

Moving on to some housekeeping changes. As with any large and complex piece of legislation such as FOIPPA, and particularly one that has undergone a number of changes, it is only natural that over the course of time, minor adjustments are required to rectify ambiguities and inconsistencies in terminology and language that only become evident upon close examination and application of the act. We have accumulated a number of such housekeeping changes, the majority of which have been identified by government solicitors. These amendments are too numerous and minor in nature to go through in great detail here with you today.


However, we will propose to provide you with a listing of these changes that we will append to our formal written submission. To give you an example, they can include rectifying inconsistencies respecting the interchangeable use of terms and language, such as the use of the term “public body” versus “the head of a public body” and the seemingly interchangeable use of the terms “provide access,” “make available,” “publish,” “release” or “produce.”

Finally, with regard to the commissioner’s recently released investigation report, F15-03. As you know, government has hired David Loukidelis, former B.C. Privacy Commissioner and former Deputy Attorney General, to assist government in making sure that all of the recommendations the commissioner has made are properly, thoroughly and professionally acted upon across government.

We look forward to his review and recommendations and may provide additional information to the committee following his report, which is expected in mid-December.

Thank you for your attention to the information I’ve provided to you today. We are pleased to answer any questions that the committee may have.

D. McRae (Chair): Thank you very much.

What a surprise. We have some questions.

D. Eby: Thank you to the staff of the ministry for presenting today. First, a short question of clarification. Will you be providing a table of all of your proposed legislative amendments? There were a number under “Strengthening privacy,” for example, that you talked about, as well as the miscellaneous amendments. So we’ll get full table of those? Thank you very much.

I was surprised not to hear specific recommendations from you today in relation to three of the issues identified by the minister in his October 22 letter. There’s the duty-to-document provision and your thoughts about the expansiveness of such a duty, the content of such of a duty, the implementation of such of a duty — anything in relation to the recommendation of maintaining deleted electronic records available for a response to access requests.

There was an additional issue around legislative oversight of information management requirements — namely, document destruction. I didn’t hear anything in your presentation related to those. I do know that Mr. Loukidelis is doing this report, but will this committee not see anything from you on these issues?

B. Hughes: We have covered a number of those issues when the Information Management Act was brought in, in the spring, specifically around duty to document and oversight provisions. We have provided all of that information to Mr. Loukidelis as part of the review that he is conducting. As I mentioned, after his review is completed in mid-December, we’re happy to come back to the committee to discuss those issues.

D. Eby: If I am to understand, then, your submission is that existing legislation adequately addresses the issues in the minster’s letter and, I presume, in the commissioner’s report, short of any recommendations from Mr. Loukidelis.

B. Hughes: I’m sorry. What was the question?

D. Eby: Are you saying the existing laws are enough?

B. Hughes: That is part of what Mr. Loukidelis will be looking at — if there are amendments that are required to FOIPPA or to the Information Management Act addressing the specific issues that were brought up in the report.

D. Eby: Obviously, of concern to the commissioner and concern to me was that act removed any penalties for document destruction, for example. I hope that Mr. Loukidelis does address those, and I encourage the ministry to consider addressing some of those issues as well.

In the commissioner’s recent report, she starts off her message by saying: “Access to information rights can only exist when public bodies create the conditions for those rights to be exercised. Government must promote a culture of access, from executive leadership to front-line employees.” I agree with her 100 percent. We can pass whatever legislative amendments we wish, but without that culture, it’s very difficult.

Is there a way for us, through our legislative amendments, to address this problem? I believe it is a problem. You don’t have to agree with me. But is there a way for us
[ Page 140 ]
to address culture so that people aren’t, for example, as we’ve seen in the Ministry of International Trade, starting off all their e-mails with “this is transitory and confidential and a cabinet document”?

How do we address that culture? Can we address that culture through legislative amendment? If so, do you have any recommendations about how we can do that?

B. Hughes: I agree with you that culture is a big part of what we need to be focusing on. We have very strong legislation. We have very strong policy.


Again, looking at the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Information Management Act, what we are trying to do is to take a look at the entire life cycle of information management, from the creation of documents to the management — providing good access, providing security of personal information and, ultimately, ensuring that those records are disposed of.

What we are focusing on is looking at how we pull those different pieces together so that public servants understand how all those things relate to each other and the importance and awareness of what government information is, how those records need to be stored, how we can ensure that we provide a duty to assist applicants who are looking for information and ensure that their personal information is protected.

I do believe that we have some very good individual training and awareness vehicles to assist public servants. I think we recognize that there’s an opportunity to take a more coordinated approach to all of those to ensure that people have an understanding, not just at the back end when an FOI request is coming in but at the front end when those documents are created, of what is considered government information and what the appropriate way is to maintain those records.

D. Eby: With respect, I think we’ve seen a massive failure of training. I don’t think this…. I don’t know. Maybe the folks on the other side might disagree with this, but the commissioner’s report shows that for three ministries she audited, there were systemic and serious issues with non-compliance, and other FOI requests from other ministries show similar issues. So there’s a very serious training issue here. I don’t agree, with respect, with your assessment, based on the evidence that this committee has.

You don’t have to agree with me, again, but is there an opportunity for this committee to recommend legislative amendments with respect to training and with respect to perhaps an oath or some other process that would be administered to public servants who are appointed and brought in that they understand the seriousness of not destroying records, of their duty to assist applicants — their duty as public servants?

I’m looking for some kind of recognition, at least, that there might be some opportunity for us to do that. But if we don’t even acknowledge there’s a training problem, then maybe we won’t be able to do that here today.

B. Hughes: As you may know, we do have a mandatory requirement for privacy training. I think expanding those training requirements appropriately to cover the other parts of information management is certainly something that could be looked at.

K. Corrigan: First, an observation. Well, actually, I’ll start with a question. Do we have a hard date for the report from Mr. Loukidelis? I think we do, don’t we? When is that report due?

B. Hughes: Mid-December.

K. Corrigan: Will the government be then doing any further submission or written submission after that report is available in order to incorporate any recommendations or government response to recommendations that may be relevant to our deliberations?

B. Hughes: Absolutely. Once we see the recommendations from Mr. Loukidelis’s review, we anticipate that we may be coming back with further information.

K. Corrigan: Okay. So when you talked about doing the written report, that written report is expected to include whatever comes out of Mr. Loukidelis’s report?

B. Hughes: We are happy to take your guidance on that. We can do the first written submission based on the presentation today and do a subsequent one, if that’s more helpful to your deliberations. Or we can wait and do one after the review is completed.

K. Corrigan: Either one would be fine, and they may be separate. That’s fine with me. But I just think it would be really helpful to this committee if we could get a response insofar as it’s relevant to this committee.

I wanted to ask about something that was related to the report that was done — it’s a minor but, I think, important point — the commissioner’s report on the three areas. Would it not have been possible for government and, specifically, your ministry to be flagging inconsistencies and acting proactively when it was seen through the process, before the report was done — inconsistencies in the responses that were happening from two different ministries or two different parts of a ministry?

In other words, one of the things that was pointed out in that report was that when there was a request made to two different individuals or bodies or ministries, one side of it would come out and say, “There are no responsive records,” and the other one would say: “There are 128 records.”
[ Page 141 ]

What is your role and responsibility to flag those kinds of inconsistencies and do something proactively to address them?


B. Hughes: I’ll start, and then I’ll ask Wes to comment on the process specifically. Having an inconsistency between the records between two individuals is not an unusual thing. In terms of who is the person who is required to keep…. First of all, does the record need to be kept? Then secondly, who is the appropriate person to keep that record? In making those determinations, you would have different records between two individuals.

When there are questions about responsive records that come back, Wes can speak to the process that his staff undertakes.

W. Boyd: My staff are busy processing many, many records of requests for information, of course, and they do their best to reconcile or compare requests that have come in previously to new requests that come in. If a request comes in that’s very similar to a previously submitted request, we’ll point the applicant to that area. Perhaps it could even be posted on Open Information.

It becomes very difficult to compare in detail a new request and records that have come in to a previous request. Basically, our staff are processing the records that come in, applying the legislation, the redaction, and working with the public body where those records came from to understand what the harms are.

We’re not comparing, necessarily, two sets of requests on an ongoing basis. That would be very time-consuming.

K. Corrigan: Could I have a quick follow-up on that? I don’t have it up on my screen right now, but the report expressed concern about the fact that the responses were so inconsistent. It didn’t seem to suggest, in my recollection, that this could be attributed to the fact that some people might have a different role or it might be a different responsibility about who collected. The report pointed to the fact — at least, assumed — that the two individuals both should have records. One did, and one didn’t.

What you’re saying is that there’s nothing in government that in any way proactively monitors or flags times when there is such inconsistency.

W. Boyd: I wouldn’t say there’s nothing in place. We do our best to identify where there might be similarities. But we just work with the public body to process those requests, those records that come in.

K. Corrigan: Okay, so there’s no requirement to identify whether there should be records or whatever. It’s just whatever the public body provides back.

Can I just also say that I would have found it helpful…? I don’t know about other members of the committee, but I would have liked to have had the full submission — apart from anything that might come up with Mr. Loukidelis.

I would have loved to have been able to do an in-depth comparison of what the commissioner is presenting today, which is a very in-depth and robust presentation, with what the government was comparing. I appreciate the overview and the verbal overview, but it would have been nice, because we’re not going to have another public opportunity to discuss it.

D. Routley (Deputy Chair): Thanks to the ministry staff and officials. I have, essentially, two questions.

One of the issues that’s come before previous committees and has been frequently brought to the attention of this committee is the issue of subsidiary corporations of public bodies. It has been an ongoing recommendation, which hasn’t yet been answered with legislative change, that subsidiary bodies be included, particularly educational public bodies.

The former Education Minister, Shirley Bond, did acknowledge that it was a gap in the legislation and indicated that it would be addressed, but it has never been addressed. I understand that there are challenges in achieving that. Could you describe what those challenges are?


Then the second question is around archiving. We’ve heard from one presenter — and I think it was a good suggestion — that more efficient archiving could streamline this process and make for more consistent responses. In other words, a consistent archiving process that would allow the anonymization of documents more expediently, rather than, perhaps, slowing down the process. The referencing of documents might be more consistent if there were more efficient archiving.

Are there any efforts being made in the ministry to achieve those efficiencies?

B. Hughes: I’ll answer your last question first. With regard to having digital information that’s more readily available, both for access and for archives, that is the intention of the implementation of the Information Management Act, which we hope to be bringing into force early next year.

Having all of the documents digital will allow us to use technologies to be able to find information and, if necessary, anonymize it for broader access as well as ensuring that we have a digital archive available, too, for those 3 percent of documents that need to go into archive — moving them into there.

Yes, that is part of the intention, and we are in the process of doing a request for proposals for technologies and companies that can assist us in those tools to do that.

With regard to your question around the complexities that we’ve heard with regard to subsidiary corporations…. Sharon, if I could ask you to speak to that.
[ Page 142 ]

S. Plater: We went out and spoke with the broader public sector. We didn’t just speak with universities; we spoke with health authorities and other broader public sector entities.

We discovered that when you think of a corporation, you think of something fairly straightforward and simple; at least, we did. But what we found is you can have one single corporation that includes that university, other universities not necessarily within B.C., the municipal government, the provincial government, the federal government, non-profits and other corporations that are private companies — all within one single entity.

It’s become difficult to figure out how you separate that out in order to cover the portions of it that relate to public sector entities under FOIPPA when you’ve got all these other players in that single corporation. There are also entities that have business opportunities that have been bequeathed to them. Do you require them to be covered under FOIPPA when the majority of private business entities would be covered under PIPA? Then you’ve got an unlevel playing ground.

It’s been very difficult to come up with criteria for what we would mean by a corporation and what would be the basis of what they would be covered on. Do you have so many of their people appointed to a board? Well, when you’re looking at one that’s got all those entities, you may not have any appointed to a board or you could have a few appointed to a board, but you’re still bringing in all of these other parties.

There are a lot of complexities in there that we’ve been trying to sort through and think through, but we haven’t come up with a magical solution yet that satisfies that. Any help would be beneficial in trying to set criteria for what and who would be covered.

D. Routley (Deputy Chair): Supplemental to that, previous recommendations have indicated that their recommendation would be to include subsidiary bodies wholly owned or controlled by a public body.

Do you imagine that thresholds could be established, like a percentage of ownership or number of persons appointed to a board, that could qualify a corporation under FOIPPA?

S. Plater: You could. What we’ve been trying to do is look at different criteria. We’ve asked universities, for example, for ideas around criteria. We’ve been trying to apply those across the different examples we’ve been given. We’re still working through that. We still haven’t come up with, as I said, a magical set of criteria that’s going to be useful for coverage.

D. Routley (Deputy Chair): Would it be helpful for this committee to suggest such?

S. Plater: Yes, it would be.

D. McRae (Chair): Actually, I was going to ask a question as well, but I’ll also make a comment.


It might be seen with a little skepticism if universities were to make some suggestions how to better deal with third-party business ventures, since at this committee we’ve had a number of presentations by individuals and groups saying they have concerns over that area. That being said, best practice would be, I hope, recognized as best practice and something we could embrace.

S. Plater: Can I respond? One of the reasons we went to universities and asked that question is that the people who practice in the universities in the area of privacy have come from multiple different entities, including the commissioner’s office, other types of the broader public sector, municipalities that are already covered for their corporations, etc. We thought they may have a wealth of ideas that we could take and at least throw into the hopper and think about.

D. McRae (Chair): Fair enough. My one question, though. We’ve had some presentations — in fact, we just had one this morning from Nelson — talking about proactive disclosure. I think you mentioned earlier there could be 8,000 to 10,000 FOI requests a year, and at some cost. Now, some are very simple. Will there be recommendations, from your final report, as to what areas we could actually address in proactive disclosure and make it a little easier for the ministries to deal with the more robust FOI requests?

B. Hughes: I did mention, in my speaking notes, one area where if we could change legislation to allow us to redact personal information from documents before we proactively disclose them, that is something that we think would be helpful.

D. McRae (Chair): Thank you very much. We’ll keep going, then.

D. Eby: In follow-up on this wholly-owned-subsidiary issue, I’m surprised that you’re seeking advice from this committee about how to implement this. I note in the Privacy Commissioner’s submission — which we’re going to be seeing following yours, and I recommend it to you — she notes: “In June 2014 and October 2011, I wrote to the relevant ministers to ask that an amendment be drafted to FIPPA to ensure that these entities were all public bodies that were covered by FIPPA.”

Since October 2011, or perhaps since June 2014, you haven’t been able to figure out a way to get wholly-owned subsidiaries under the Freedom of Information Act, any way to draft legislation to bring them underneath? If you haven’t, if that’s the case, have you advised the commissioner of your difficulty around this
[ Page 143 ]
and asked for suggestions about how to implement her recommendation?

It seems to me that this has been going on for a long time. This committee has heard from six or seven witnesses that this is a serious issue. We’re going to hear from the commissioner, it seems, on it as well. I find it surprising that there are no records on this request.

B. Hughes: I’m not sure I understand your last comment that there are no records.

D. Eby: How can it be that since October 2011 this has been an issue — a huge issue for the public — in front of this committee for multiple years, yet this ministry has no idea about how to implement that recommendation and is, in fact, seeking recommendations from elected officials about how to do that?

B. Hughes: Yes, you’re correct that this has been something that has been on our to-do list for a number of years. There have been conversations with the different entities, as Sharon mentioned. It is a very complex issue, and it is one of the many, many things that we are working on. Yes, we do have ongoing conversation with the commissioner’s office. We know that this is something people are interested in. It is something on our minds.

D. Eby: I guess, maybe more pointedly, what I’m asking is: if we respond to the many recommendations we’ve heard from the public to recommend to you that wholly-owned subsidiaries be included under FOIPPA, how does this committee ensure that the response from the ministry isn’t: “Well, this is quite complicated. We don’t understand how to do it, so we’re not going to do it”? Clearly, this is a significant concern of the public, and it’s certainly a concern of mine on the committee. I don’t know whether it’s shared by other committee members. But it would be my hope that if we recommended that, you would be able to do that.

B. Hughes: Well, as with all the recommendations, we will take them under advisement and look at how we can action them.

K. Corrigan: I wanted to ask a question that I’m also going to ask of the Privacy Commissioner with regard to the submission that we’ve received from that office.


I believe you were talking — certainly, the category was in there — about mandatory notifications when there’s a breach. The recommendation made by the Privacy Commissioner is that if there is a data breach, they need to be notified of that and that if there are individuals that could be involved in a negative way, they should also be informed. But I’m wondering whether or not there is agreement that, in the public interest, there need to be requirements that there be public information about those kinds of data breaches. I’m just wondering if you have any comment on that.

Maybe I’ll just add my last question, which was with regard to the drafting of amendments with regard to data linking. Just confirm that it is intended that there will be legislation and an amendment which will provide that the data-linking provisions which are too narrow will mean that if there is either one of the two groups involved…. It’ll fix that loophole, basically. You know the loophole I’m talking about. Is that what you’re saying?

B. Hughes: Yes. On the draft amendment to the data-linking provision, we have worked with the commissioner’s office to come up with language and process that will address that issue.

With regard to the privacy breaches, generally, Sharon, if I can have you speak to the details around that.

S. Plater: The majority of privacy breaches that government gets or investigates are administrative. You have a very high percentage that are double-stuffed envelopes or a fax that’s gone missing or a letter that’s been sent to an address that’s no longer in play. I think it would be important to think about whether those are in the public interest to notify the public about.

The other thing that we get as a percentage of the remaining breaches…. A fairly significant proportion of those relate to individuals. So you would have…. It’s a child-in-care file, or it may be somebody in an adoption record. It could be somebody in a criminal file.

It’s very much related to their particular circumstances, so again you’d really have to consider the privacy issues related to that when you consider public notification. I think there are a number of factors that you’d have to look at there and weigh as to whether it would benefit the public with such notification.

D. McRae (Chair): Just a reminder: we have about eight minutes to go. So, hoping that everybody gets their questions and we keep them brief.

D. Routley (Deputy Chair): I have two concerns about the failure to meet the test of the act on the part of a number of public bodies, ministries and the Premier’s office. The commissioner’s report points to the failure to meet the “duty to assist” requirement under the act and, in fact, describes it as a negligence under the act, in the Premier’s office and other examinations the commissioner has made.

Since that has a very serious overtone to it, what steps are being taken by the ministry to ensure that ministries and public bodies are in fact meeting their requirement under a duty to assist applicants?

Then, also on the privacy-breach side of it, we saw the massive privacy breach — an unencrypted hard drive
[ Page 144 ]
that was lost. It was such an obvious failure to meet the test of privacy protection, any basic expectation. It’s almost impossible to believe that that much personal information of British Columbians could be stored in such an irresponsible way.

What can the ministry do to encourage people working within the bureaucracy to recognize their responsibility to adequately protect privacy? I don’t know where to start, even.


B. Hughes: With regard to the duty to assist, I would add that both in the overall FOIPPA training that we do, as well as the specific training that’s done by the information access operations, we have increased the training material and discussion around a duty to assist.

Wes didn’t mention it in his last response, but where we…. There are a couple of things. When a request comes in and we don’t believe the applicant is asking the right office for the records that they are looking for, we will work with the applicant to ensure that we help them figure out where the records may be that are responsive to the request.

Also, when we do receive a response back that there are no responsive records, staff do follow back up with the public body to ensure that…. They may not have records themselves, but do they know of other people within their organization that may have those records? So it’s encouraging them to ensure that they have done a broader scan within the organization or other organizations that may have those records. And we will refer those requests.

So there is work being done to ensure people understand clearly their duty to assist in terms of responding to applicants’ requests and that they think about it more broadly than just the request coming to their own office or them individually as to whether or not there are records that may be responsive somewhere else.

With regard to the privacy breach with the Ministry of Education, there is an investigation that is currently underway, both by my office and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, looking at how that occurred. But not waiting for the results of that investigation, we have increased our connection with the ministries to ensure that those ministry privacy officers and those ministry security officers are ensuring that staff within their ministries understand the policies that are in place, which do not allow for the storage of personal information on unencrypted devices.

That particular hard drive — it was 2011 when that information was put on there. There has been a significant amount of work since then to ensure that staff understand their obligations and ensure that they are using the appropriate technologies to store personal information.

The privacy management and accountability policy that I spoke to earlier and this community of practice that is in place — again, raising the awareness and also the understanding of the policies around protection of personal information. We have also hired Deloitte to assist us, particularly around the practices in the Ministry of Education with regard to the security of personal information, as well as working with us to develop a compliance review process that we will be carrying out in every ministry to be able to do a review to ensure that ministries are aware and are complying with our security and privacy policies.

D. Eby: I did want to ask a question. We had a couple of witnesses here on section 30.1 on storing data abroad as opposed to here in Canada. I’m certainly relieved to hear your interest in maintaining the critical aspects of that.

What I was curious about was the stuff that seems to have been caught that’s more on the periphery. For example, we heard from — I think it was — Coastal Health about an employee satisfaction survey that they couldn’t run through SurveyMonkey. We heard about the research universities having trouble with managing international student records or with their overseas campuses and so on. Has there been any discussion about how we maintain the critical piece of 30.1, which is making sure that U.S. intelligence doesn’t get to just leaf through B.C. resident information but make sure that innocuous data potentially…? I don’t know. Is there a way to address the potentially innocuous data without throwing the baby out with the bathwater here?

B. Hughes: We work with not just core ministries but the broader public sector when they are challenged by those provisions of the act in terms of meeting their business requirements.


What we help them do is identify other options that may be available to them and also identify what they can do to see if they are able to utilize those technologies, either through development of their privacy impact assessments, making sure that they understand what those threats are and what might be in place in order to assist them with using the technology — things like tokenization — to be able to do that. So we do help ministries and the broader public sector to see if there are avenues to be able to take advantage of the technology while still being within FOIPPA.

Sharon, you probably have some more specific examples, because the folks are usually calling your office.

S. Plater: I just wanted to mention that because we work with all ministries and the broader public sector, we are aware of some tweaks that need to be made to the legislation in that area.

For example, you can get ministries where the only information that’s leaving the country would be the name of the employee, where they’re working — the physical
[ Page 145 ]
address — and their phone number. That’s it. But because it’s not being used to contact them — it may be being used for some other reason within the system development — that can’t go outside of the country.

We’re aware of pieces like that that make no sense whatsoever. Like you said, it’s not sensitive data. They need to be addressed in legislative amendments. So we do have those on our radar.

Some organizations — if they have a very small, targeted change — could approach government about the possibility of a ministerial order. That’s another option that’s available within the legislation.

Oftentimes what will happen is an organization will come forward and say: “We want all of our material exempt. We want our e-mail, our SharePoint, all of our systems exempt.” Well, that’s not an appropriate move. There are many choices they could make — such as getting consent from individuals in order to share their information across borders, etc. — that are available already in the legislation. But if there is a small, targeted change that they can’t accomplish any other way, then there is that option of a ministerial order.

D. McRae (Chair): Thank you very much for coming and joining us today. Thank you, Bette-Jo, Sharon and Wes. We appreciate it. We appreciate the presentation. We look forward to your report.

I’d like to welcome the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia today. Obviously, I’ll let them introduce themselves, but we know them all.

Before they say anything, I’d like to say thank you very much. Deputy Chair Routley and myself were able to attend the conference. Your staff worked very hard, I know, last week. It was an amazing group of academics, private sector, lawyers, individuals with great expertise, including former Premiers, who came and shared their thoughts about privacy and freedom of information. So thank you, again, for doing that, not just for ourselves who attended but for all the attendees and for British Columbia, for coming together there.


Most of all, my daughter Chloe wanted to say thank you for the little leather giveaway book at the end of it. She quickly took that from me when I got home and has been doodling in it ever since. She’s six, and her pictures are outstanding.

That being said, could I turn the proceedings over to yourselves. Like we just had, we’ll do a half-hour presentation and then a half hour for questions. The floor is yours.

E. Denham: Thank you very much. Thank you for your kind words about our conference last week. I hope that we are not the cause of the privacy bug that seems to have invaded you and Bette-Jo.

Hon. Chair, vice-Chair and members of the committee, I’m very pleased to be here today. With me is Michael McEvoy, who is our deputy commissioner, and my colleagues who have joined us, behind us.

You will have received a detailed written submission from my office. In that submission, we make 20 recommendations for legislative change, including a duty to document, including oversight and sanctions for destruction of records, mandatory breach notification and stronger privacy management requirements that will raise the bar for personal information protection in British Columbia.

I’d like to spend about the next 25 minutes talking about these key recommendations and then be prepared to answer any questions put to me by the committee.

My slide deck is quite simple, so there are no cartoons. There are no illustrations, but it might help guide you through my presentation.

Having reviewed the written submissions and following the transcripts of individuals who have appeared as witnesses before the committee in the past few weeks, I’m really heartened by the level of public engagement in the work of this committee. It’s clear to me that British Columbians take a real interest in their information rights.

I’d like to start by talking about those information rights and, in particular, the duty to document. As committee members will know, on October 22, 2015, I released an investigation report called Access Denied. In it, I examined FOI responses within the B.C. government and made a number of recommendations for change.

Two of my recommendations have been referred to the committee for study by the minister responsible. The first is a duty to document, which is a positive duty for public servants to create full and accurate records.

The second area for study is oversight of records destruction and penalties for non-compliance. I thought it would be helpful to talk about why I think these legislative changes are needed and what they would look like in practice.

One of the main messages in my recent investigation report and in previous reports by my office is that access-to-information rights can only exist when public bodies create and keep records of the key actions they take and decisions they make.

I believe the duty to document is a critical element of good records management, which in turn, supports good government. This is especially the case in a world dominated by digital communications.

Some documentation is obviously taking place now. But if one were to take a snapshot today, it would be an incomplete picture of the what and the why of government decision-making.

The government’s new Information Management Act defines and sets out the mechanisms for retaining government information, but it leaves unaddressed the need
[ Page 146 ]
to create that information in the first instance. Citizens might wonder how it is that any government can operate without creating information about its major actions and decisions.

How would an auditor come to understand the underlying basis or rationale for financial transactions if there is no written documentation? How would a lawyer, defending or initiating legal action on behalf of government, find the relevant evidence? In a democracy, how does the public hold its government accountable if citizens have no way of knowing how decisions were reached?


Yet, increasingly, access-to-information requests are met with replies of “no responsive records,” a phenomenon reflective of oral government, where some public officials do not write anything down.

A recent review into the firings at the Ministry of Health was hampered by what the lawyer conducting the review called a “dearth of documents,” meaning that the records that would normally be available in a situation where discipline is being contemplated simply did not appear to exist.

A duty to document would ensure that there is a lasting record. The reality is that people’s memories aren’t perfect. Civil servants retire, or they move on to new opportunities. The bits and bites of information that aren’t being documented are essential to understanding and following through on the important decisions being made.

After the release of my most recent report, there’s been considerable public discussion about the duty to document. And there’s some spirited debate about whether such a duty would be helpful or whether it would be harmful.

Those who oppose a duty to document typically cite two concerns. The first is that it would be just too cumbersome, forcing government officials to document every idea, every discussion, every meeting regardless of its import. But this isn’t what my definition of a duty to document entails.

A duty to document does not necessarily require the production of more records. Rather, it requires the deliberate production and retention of records about specific mandated activities. In jurisdictions such as Queensland, Australia, where the duty to document is legislated, public bodies determine what functions and what activities they are responsible for and, therefore, what records they should create. Records that are created are those that support a public body’s purpose, its operational needs, its statutory responsibilities. This brings clarity to the process of determining when a record needs to be created or should otherwise exist.

The second concern about a duty to document is that the disclosure of government’s inner workings will chill the decision-making processes that are so vital to good government. Public servants, it’s been argued, will be less willing to express frank views, including difficult truths that politicians may not want to hear, for fear they will be misunderstood if these views are publicly exposed.

However, our existing access-to-information law already takes into account this concern in the advice and recommendations exception under FIPPA. Certain kinds of behind-the-scenes discussions are not subject to disclosure, thus allowing for frank discussions. It does not follow that a duty to document will result in a duty to disclose.

What does a duty to document look like in practice? In thinking specifically about the B.C. context, I believe the duty should encompass three requirements.

First, it should be expressly written into FIPPA. This would ensure that the duty exists to all public bodies, not just core government, as is the case under the Information Management Act. This would also ensure that my office has oversight responsibility for the duty. I don’t think that a duty to document in policy will suffice. I believe that recent events have made it evident that there needs to be a clear and unequivocal duty in law.

Second, the duty to document should be flexible enough to work for public bodies of different sizes and which are in different lines of business to establish practical and meaningful categories of records that need to be created. Consideration has to be given to business needs, accountability requirements and community expectations.


For example, if a public body is making a decision to embark on a new program, staff would be required to document or record the decision and the basis of the decision to implement the new program. A social services agency would be required to document a decision around granting a benefit to an individual. A contract manager would need to document how a contractor’s qualifications and services were scored in case they were challenged.

Third, there needs to be robust and independent oversight of the duty to document. Another issue explored in my investigation report and referred to this committee for study is oversight over the destruction of records.

This is an issue of public concern in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada. We have an oversight gap in our laws. FIPPA provides very minimal oversight of the destruction of records and only in cases where a person obstructs a public body’s response to an access request by destroying records. It’s a very narrow piece.

The Information Management Act determines a schedule for the destruction of records by core government but not for the broader public sector. This means that if documents are improperly disposed of outside of the FOI process, there is no mechanism for investigation or review.

In Alberta, the Information and Privacy Commissioner has the power to investigate compliance with rules in provincial statutes or of local public bodies on the destruction of records. The Alberta statute establishes the unauthorized destruction of records as an offence.
[ Page 147 ]

My recommendation brings the Alberta model to B.C., with my office having the power to investigate allegations around the destruction of records under any B.C. statute and oversight over records destruction that’s in contravention of rules or bylaws of local public bodies. This oversight should also be supported by new, complementary offences and penalties under the act. I’m going to speak more about penalties and sanctions later in the presentation.

I would like to turn now to some of the key recommendations that I’m making specific to the protection of privacy. My recommendations, if adopted, will raise the bar to ensure that public bodies properly manage personal information of British Columbians in an accountable way.

I know we’ve already talked about this, but I’d like to start with my recommendation for mandatory breach reporting.

We trust public bodies with our most sensitive personal information — health records, tax records, financial information, and the list goes on — and turning over much of this information to government is not optional. We need health care. We enrol our children in school.

When we need the services of government, we have no choice but to hand over our sensitive personal information. But it seems that every week the public learns about a new data breach involving lost or stolen laptops or mobile devices; misdirected e-mails containing sensitive data; or employees snooping in electronic health records.

Privacy breaches carry a human cost. They put individuals at risk of identity theft, serious reputational harm — not to mention the loss of confidence of the public in government agencies.

Breach reporting in British Columbia is currently voluntary. My office only receives reports in 1 percent of cases of data breaches. A voluntary regime means that there’s no clear threshold for reporting to my office, no consistency in when breaches are reported to affected individuals. Therefore, it’s incomplete.

Mandatory breach notification would give citizens an opportunity to be made aware of these significant breaches and take steps to mitigate them. There should also be a legal requirement to report significant breaches to my office so that our staff can assist public bodies to address the breach, address its root cause and help to prevent future occurrences.


B.C. would not be charting new waters with such a provision. Newfoundland and Labrador and the territory of Nunavut have such provisions in place, and seven of Canada’s provinces have mandatory breach reporting requirements in their health information statutes. The federal government addresses breach reporting through policy.

In November of last year, I made a presentation to the special committee reviewing PIPA, the Personal Information Protection Act. As part of those consultations, I outlined why mandatory breach reporting would be an important addition to the private sector legislation. The committee agreed and recommended in their final report that PIPA be amended to require organizations to notify the commissioner and affected individuals in the case of a significant breach. There should not be a lower standard for the protection of privacy in the public sector.

Privacy breach reporting is only one part of an overall privacy management program. Just as public bodies must have sound financial management practices and frameworks, they must also take a comprehensive approach to privacy.

Canada’s privacy commissioners have issued detailed, scalable, practical guidance that provides private and public sector organizations with a road map to implementing sound privacy management. This committee has an opportunity to take this work to its next logical step: an express legal requirement spelling out what public bodies need to do in order to effectively protect the privacy of individuals.

The special committee reviewing PIPA made this recommendation for the private sector. While there are some differences, in my view, the obligation should be harmonized between these two laws to provide for the same legal privacy requirements, including appointing somebody to be in charge of privacy within a public body, staff training — not required right now; it should be in law — privacy policies and privacy breach response plans.

Privacy management programs do not prevent every breach, but they go a long way to providing proactive tools to mitigate privacy incidents and also, really importantly, build trust with citizens. We’ve begun to see privacy management implemented on a policy basis. We heard that the government of British Columbia has implemented a policy control privacy management program. But the broader public sector — education bodies, health authorities, municipal governments, universities and Crowns — should also be implementing controls to effectively protect personal information.

Of course, all of the recommendations that I’ve been talking about here and in my written submission require robust and independent oversight in order to be effective.

Before I move on to our Q and A, I received two written questions from the committee that I would like to respond to.

The first concerns health information and how it should be dealt with in this review. Unlike most other provinces, British Columbia does not have sector-specific, stand-alone health information legislation. Depending on the provider of the health service, personal health information may be subject to FIPPA, it may be subject to PIPA, or it may be subject to the E-Health legislation.

I’ve long said that I believe British Columbians would be better served with a single set of rules that facilitates the flow of information between the public and the private health providers — also to ensure robust protection for patient information and also, really importantly, to
[ Page 148 ]
establish a framework for vital public interest research. It’s not expected that B.C. will adopt a stand-alone law for personal health information any time soon.

While this committee is tasked with reviewing FIPPA, there are a number of recommendations that I’m making that are particularly important for strengthening the protection of personal health information. I believe breach notification requirements proposed would be of great importance to the health sector. Much of the information in the health sector is stored in electronic form in large databases. That means that the risks and the potential harms of privacy breaches are greater than they were in the days of paper-based records.


Similarly, I believe that my recommendation around data linking is also important to the health sector. Currently there is a carve-out for data-linking rules for the health sector. I believe the rules should be applied to personal health information, which would make them subject to transparency and review, and my recommendation for new offences and higher penalties will match those in other Canadian jurisdictions.

There have also been numerous reports of employees snooping in electronic health records in B.C. and in Canada in the last year. While this is not a problem that’s exclusive to health information, it has proven to be a particular problem in that sector.

Finally, I would like to answer a question I received from the committee about a framework for sanctions and penalties. FIPPA currently authorizes penalties for two types of offences. General offences carry penalties for individuals up to $5,000, while privacy protection offences for individuals carry penalties of up to $2,000.

These penalties are among the lowest in the country. Other provinces have penalties ranging from $10,000 up to $50,000 per offence. Ontario has passed a bill that will increase penalties to $100,000 for individuals. I think B.C. needs to come in line with these other jurisdictions and deter would-be offenders, so I’m recommending penalties for general and privacy offences committed by individuals under FIPPA to be raised to $50,000.

I also recommend two new offences: the unauthorized and wilful destruction of records and for unauthorized access and use of personal information — in other words, the snooping offence.

I just want to leave you with a quick postscript. While this is not written in my submission, I believe the Legislature should review FIPPA more frequently than every six years. Given the fast pace of technological change and the myriad of access and privacy issues that continue to wash ashore in British Columbia, I believe that a review every three to four years would allow legislators to ensure that information rights are protected on an ongoing basis. I leave that for the committee’s consideration.

Thank you very much for your attention this morning, and I am pleased to take any questions.

D. McRae (Chair): Perfect. Thank you very much. I’m sure we will have some questions.

K. Corrigan: I want to thank your office for the work that you do on an ongoing basis, including the report that you referenced from a few months ago. I wanted to try to home in a little bit more on where the line is on what types of documents should be preserved. One of the questions is….

On page 6 of your report, talking about the Information Management Act requirements, it says that information that should be kept, essentially, is: “(b) information that documents a decision by a government body respecting a course of action that directly affects a person or the operations of the government…” and then, in addition to, “(c) information that documents or supports the government body’s organization, policies, procedures, transactions or operations.”

I know that when we were raising issues in the House about the report that was done — Access Denied — one of the responses of government that came back fairly regularly was: “Well, we don’t have to preserve drafts. We just have to preserve the decision, and we did that.”

Where is the line? Often it turns out that some of the damning information deals not with the decision or even the points up to it but, for example, e-mails that we find that go to the credibility of individuals or of government. It doesn’t really have to do with the decision but rather credibility and other issues about the character of government.

Can you give me a bit of an outline of where you think that line is — of what should be preserved and what doesn’t need to be preserved? It’s very complicated, and I’m asking you to make very general comments, but….


E. Denham: I think there’s a lot of expertise in the records management field that can help answer those questions. Certainly, the definitions that I am quoting in my report from the Information Management Act are a start. They’re a start to get us thinking about what records, in relation to the context of a specific program or a specific decision-maker in a public body, need to be retained.

You know, I look to the expertise of someone like Laura Millar, who presented to the committee. Her point was that once you figure out what evidence needs to be preserved, depending on the mandate of the public body…. Obviously, B.C. Ferries is not going to be creating the same kind of evidence of its decision-making as the Ministry of Children and Family. These are different business lines. But once you figure out what kinds of records actually matter to your function and your business line, then the transitory question is less troubling. That’s one way of thinking about it.

I do think that what is needed here is a culture of proper creation and proper retention of important records.
[ Page 149 ]
Training is really critical. Leadership and the culture of leadership is really important.

Then you asked me a question about drafts. I’m going to say it depends. There are policies and guidelines around what is a record and what is a transitory record in terms of drafts.

I would say that a draft of a cabinet submission is a record because it’s going to change along the way. I would say that the draft of legislation is a record and not transitory because the changes that were made along the way are reflective of decision-making. A draft of a briefing note that one of my staff writes to me may not be a record and may indeed be transitory.

It’s contextual. It needs clear direction. It needs training. But I think we already have a lot of tools that we can use from various jurisdictions to be able to clarify this issue.

D. Routley (Deputy Chair): I have quite a number of questions. I’ll just stick to….

D. McRae (Chair): How about you do a couple. Then we’ll keep moving around, and I’ll come back to you.

D. Routley (Deputy Chair): I’ll do a couple, and we’ll see what happens.

Thank you for the presentation, of course. In your report, you referred to an indication that the practices you identified as problematic were probably systemic, but your investigation was not broad enough to make that assertion directly. What would it take in order to review government to the point where you could satisfy yourself that it is or is not systemic?

E. Denham: You’re correct that the statement that I made in my report is this was not an audit of government’s duty to assist. We had three complaints, and we followed those complaints. We did not go in and look at various files that the government had on “no responsive records” or problems in duty to assist. We did not do that.

Committee members may be interested to know that I am doing such an audit of the city of Vancouver in terms of their duty to assist applicants. In that review, I would say that’s going to be more of a systemic, broad review of their practices. We don’t have the resources in our office to do a broad, systematic review of duty to assist within the provincial government.

I’m hopeful that with the government’s commitments to adopt and accept the recommendations in my report, with the expert advice of David Loukidelis on things like training and policy…. By the way, I don’t think that his terms of reference cover making recommendations on legislative reform. I think that’s up to this committee. But I look forward to his report to the government.


Then instead of doing a timeliness report, which I have done with regards to FOI in previous years, I will consider going back and doing some spot audits in ministries where we see some patterns of problems. That’s the extent that our resources will allow.

D. Routley (Deputy Chair): We’ve heard from several public bodies and organizations, companies, in fact, that have come forward and recommended that we relax the protections under section 30.1 that prohibit storage of personal information outside of Canada. I’m very concerned about that, particularly since the convention that we attended, the Chair and I, last week that you hosted.

It was really an eye-opener when Lisa Austin from the University of Toronto shared her work. She said that, in fact, if we share our information in the United States, we are not protected, as non-resident aliens, under the Fourth Amendment of the constitution.

In any case, Charter protections in Canada of privacy are more stringent and strong, but we would also lose those protections, because any search would be a search for information outside of Canada, so a Canadian authority would not be bound by our Charter rights. That’s a huge concern.

We’ve heard today from a contributor to this committee that perhaps our right to maintain section 30.1 is not threatened by trade agreements, TPP in particular. But if we were to relax it, I would suggest that it would be very difficult to turn back and increase again, given the restrictions that are there. Can you give this committee any recommendation as to what we should do in terms of these petitions?

E. Denham: I was hoping I wouldn’t get the difficult 30.1 question. But like you, I was listening intently at the panel on data localization and data sovereignty last week in Vancouver and Lisa Austin’s work, which basically says jurisdiction still matters. So data localization is an important tool. The Maple Leaf constitutional protection does not follow our data when it leaves the country, whether it goes to the U.S. and it’s in the hands of a cloud provider or elsewhere.

Essentially, the concerns that led the Legislature to make the data localization provisions remain unchanged. When I talk to British Columbians, they tell me that their privacy is really important to them and that they don’t want their sensitive personal information to be compelled to be produced under a foreign law. They want the protection of our Canadian constitution. They want the protection of our privacy laws, which they lose once the data crosses the border.

When I talk to British Columbians, they don’t know a lot about the details of their privacy protection under our FIPPA or under our PIPA. But what they do know about the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act is that their data can’t be transferred outside of Canada ex-
[ Page 150 ]
cept in those circumstances where they give their consent. British Columbians do know this about our law.

To take that away, to repeal that requirement, I think the legislators would have to think about what to put in place to protect data in the long term. I don’t know what that is, especially…. As we heard from my government colleagues, the invalidation of the safe harbour agreement, the European Court of Justice, means that there are questions around the bulk collection of data and the lack of protection for foreign nationals, for their information in the U.S.

I don’t see those concerns abating. I don’t see any kind of a rollback of those provisions where information can be collected in secret under the Freedom Act, which amended the Patriot Act. I don’t see any changes there.


That said, we also meet with the education sector, the health sector. We hear their concerns and the difficulties and frustrations that they may feel. However, I think the landscape has changed. I think you can see players like Microsoft and Adobe that are setting up Canadian solutions.

We have surveyed companies in Canada that public bodies could use. So I see some easing of those difficulties. Are they going to go away completely? No, but we do have amendments in our law that allow for consensual disclosure, that allow for a ministerial order when something is in the public interest and needs to be shipped across the border.

I’m not hearing anything that convinces me that we need to roll back those provisions. You will have noticed that I didn’t make a recommendation for change in my submission.

D. Routley (Deputy Chair): I just want to express my agreement with that and my concern that British Columbians will answer at a very high percentage that personal privacy protection is a highly salient issue for them but not really understand the architecture of what the law is or what mechanisms are there to protect them.

I think it puts an even higher onus on members of this committee and on government to be responsible gatekeepers of that privacy, even though people might, without much concern, click “I accept” on a Facebook privacy notification. We have a much higher duty, and I’m concerned that this push for expediency around 30.1 will be undermining all of that.

I thank you for your submission.

S. Sullivan: I listened to you about the duty to document. I think about my own situation. Every couple of years I make this goal as a new year’s resolution that I’m going to document things that I do, and I never do it. Or sometimes I do, but I write very incompletely, and when I look back, I say: “That really doesn’t represent what happened.” But it’s my attempt.

So I do worry about old guys like me — you know, trying to get us to document everything we do, especially if we feel that whatever we write, we’ll be judged on. If they’re not complete, you’d really…. If you think there’s going to be a court case or something about this, then you certainly want to make it complete. There are certain people that just like doing things and not writing things up. It’s kind of a personality issue.

I just wonder about the training that would be required and how effective training could be for some people if it’s just not a habit for them to write everything down.

E. Denham: Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that a duty to document means that everything needs to be written down. Again, it’s selective. If there’s an important decision that’s made at a meeting, then it needs to be recorded — after the meeting, as a note to file, in the minutes of a meeting. If it’s important and it’s related to a mandate, then I think there needs to be a record.

In the olden days before digital communications, there would probably be a stenographer that was making a record. That person would go and file that, and that decision would be available. But now everybody is a records manager, and everybody is creating or not creating records and filing them who knows where.

We’ve got a records management challenge that’s not just unique to B.C.; it’s a challenge everywhere. So we have to come to terms with the new technologies, and we have to train people on what’s important to write down and who’s going to be the office of record, to keep that record so that it’s available for just good practice and good government. It’s not all about FOI.

I’m just saying there needs to be training. There needs to be expertise, and there are some experts within government. They’re in a centralized unit. Maybe what needs to happen is have those records officers available throughout the various public bodies. But it can be done.


D. Eby: With respect to your recommendations around penalties in the hypothetical situation of a senior public servant destroying records and instructing subordinates to destroy records inappropriately, would the fine be levied against that individual or against the ministry? Is there a possibility that a department, for example, could be fined?

E. Denham: Our recommendations around penalties and sanctions for the unauthorized destruction of records are to the individual. Again, I think if individuals were not trained, were not made aware of policies, etc., then it could be an issue for the ministry or the public body.

But once people have been made aware of what their obligations are under statute and policy and an individual decides to destroy records, that’s an illegal act and it should be a penalty against an individual.
[ Page 151 ]

I have some reservations about fining public bodies under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, because really, at the end of the day, you’re hitting the taxpayer. I don’t know how workable fining public bodies for the action of an individual is when that individual was warned, trained and aware of policies. So these are fines against individuals.

There have been fines and sanctions and penalties against individuals in other jurisdictions for improperly accessing personal information and destroying records.

D. Eby: We heard from the ministry that the issue of wholly owned subsidiaries is a very difficult one and, in fact, for years they’ve struggled with it and still have no idea how to deal with this. In fact, they asked this committee for help. As enthusiastic as I am to help, I don’t feel qualified to do it.

Can you provide this committee with some assistance in understanding the legislative provision that would be needed to bring wholly owned subsidiaries — for example, in the case of school boards’ own incorporations, universities or so on — under the provisions of FOIPPA? We heard from a number of witnesses that this was a significant priority.

E. Denham: I do think it’s a significant issue. We’ve certainly written to ministers over time and talked about this in other FIPPA reviews. The bottom line is when public resources are used to operate a subsidiary corporation, then that subsidiary corporation should be subject to the accountability and transparency requirements in FOI and also follow privacy rules.

I was aware that there were stakeholder consultations going on, that the ministry was talking to various public bodies and third parties. But I was not aware of the difficulties that they were having until I heard this presentation today.

Without giving prescriptive, legislative language as to what the fix is, I’m certainly able and willing to work with government to come up with that wording. I have made a suggestion in my submission, but I also understand that there’s a lot of dialogue going on about the percentage of ownership, etc. The other thing that I would do is look to other jurisdictions for how they’ve solved this problem.

D. Eby: My fear is that we’ll make a recommendation and it won’t be implemented because of concerns that it’s too difficult, so any assistance you could provide in that regard would be very welcome.

The last question for this round. Mr. Loukidelis has been asked to do a report to assist the ministry in implementing your recommendations. Can you advise this committee what role, if any, you have in Mr. Loukidelis’s report? Will you be consulted? Should we seek to get a written submission or to get you to appear again after that report is out to help us get your feedback, or can we assume that your feedback is incorporated in that in some way?

E. Denham: I have not been approached by the government as to how I will be involved in Mr. Loukidelis’s work. However, I would assume that I would be able to have access to his report before it’s made public because the purpose of his review is to comply with the recommendations that we issued in this report.

I think it’s important that our office feels that the work that he has done will assist the government in meeting the spirit and the letter of the recommendations. I would be interested in appearing before this committee again once that work is complete. Also, if there’s anything else that our office can do as follow-up work from submissions that you receive at the end of January, we can provide comments or review opinions, if that’s helpful.


K. Corrigan: It’s sort of off the main topics that you’ve been talking about. Page 31 of your submission says that FIPPA should set out a clear threshold at which a public body is required to correct personal information and that that threshold should be harmonized with the reasonable grounds threshold set out in PIPA.

I was wondering about whether you have in the past…. Maybe you’ve done a report on this, and I’ve missed it. Have you looked into…? I think you have, actually, looked into PRIME-BC before.

My concern is that there is something like…. I can’t remember the last count. It was about 4½ million records of personal information about British Columbians in there — some of it duplicates, some of it old. We’ve certainly, as MLAs…. I know many of us have had people come and complain about the fact that it’s affecting their ability to get work when you get a report from PRIME. This is a police database — inability to cross borders without really knowing why and so on.

Maybe you could just comment a little bit more about that and how this recommendation affects that.

E. Denham: There is a relationship. I’m going to ask Michael McEvoy to address it. We have looked at police information checks in the past. I think that’s what you’re remembering.

K. Corrigan: Yes.

M. McEvoy: Some of the concerns that you’ve raised we’ve heard directly with our office too.

The challenge with the legislation as it is now is it actually doesn’t set out when public bodies are required to correct personal information. Ultimately, the remedy in the circumstance may only be that the record is annotated, even where it may clearly be that the information is incorrect. There’s no obligation to do that.
[ Page 152 ]

The proposal, the recommendation, that we’re making to the committee would at least set a threshold whereby the information would actually be corrected. It would set a standard whereby some of those very concerns that your constituents have raised and some of those concerns that have been raised with our office, I think, can be dealt with, we would say, in a more satisfactory way.

K. Corrigan: I have another question, another quick one. I wanted to ask a question about something that I asked of the ministry as well. It has to do with mandatory reporting of data breaches.

Your recommendation — and I think government agreed with it — is that yes, there should be a framework for mandatory circumstances when reporting of data breaches is mandatory; that if individuals are affected, they should be made aware; and, also, that there should be reporting to your office if a large number of individuals, perhaps, are affected.

My question before and my question to you as well is: have you thought about the importance of publicly reporting when it is fairly significant — adding a public reporting? Or would you think that it would be sufficient to simply say that it would be up to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner to decide at what point a data breach was significant enough that it should be publicly reported?

I do understand the issues of privacy and mentioning names. I’m not suggesting that at all. I just think the very fact that there have been significant privacy breaches would be in the public interest, probably.

E. Denham: There are some jurisdictions, particularly in the United States, where significant data breaches must by publicly reported. I think of the state of California, for example. There is a requirement for at least private sector organizations to make public significant data breaches that reach a certain threshold.

In this model, if a large number of individuals are affected by a significant data breach and that report comes to our office, it’s very likely that we would do a public report when it’s a significant breach, such as the one that we were talking about with the Ministry of Education. The other point is that when there is mandatory notification to affected individuals, it’s very likely that those affected individuals are going to make it public.

I’m not sure if the publication of significant privacy breaches is necessary to meet the policy intent of my recommendation, which is to focus more resources on proper data security.


At the end of the day, what this is about is not “gotcha.” It’s not announcing it in the headline that there’s been a breach. It’s to focus attention and good care of our personal information. Knowing that breaches have to be reported to individuals and to the commissioner is really important.

D. McRae (Chair): Doug, you had withdrawn your question, or was it dealt with?

D. Routley (Deputy Chair): Actually, I will ask a question. Thank you, Chair.

The definition of a transitory document. There was work done around the time the original act was passed. Rob Botterell presented to the committee and brought that to my attention. Do you feel as though the definition adopted at that time, if you’re familiar with it, is satisfactory today?

E. Denham: I think the definition could be tweaked. I think there’s some work that needs to be done.

I think a more significant issue was the one that I was talking about earlier. Given that we have all these new forms of communication, we need to think about this. We need to train people and remind them about how the world is changing. What’s government information that needs to be retained as evidence of decision-making? The rest of it — “Do you want to meet for lunch?” or “I’ve got to change the meeting to two o’clock” — is going to be a transitory record.

D. Routley (Deputy Chair): The act, being essentially technologically neutral, already accommodates everything we need to establish such a definition. We just need people to better understand the principles.

E. Denham: That’s correct.

D. McRae (Chair): The next question goes to Sam, and then the final question will be to David.

S. Sullivan: We had a couple of presenters. One was on the high school yearbook, where their information couldn’t be sent to the U.S. to get printing because it had the information about what they liked to do when they were in school or something like that. Also, some of the restrictions on sending the data out made the groups not able to access the latest technology for software and data manipulation.

I’m just wondering. Is there a certain test as to what risk the data really has by letting it out? The issue of the school yearbook was a good one. Maybe there’s not a lot of risk of someone having something bad happen with that data out, since it’s listed in public anyways.

E. Denham: I think the solution to the yearbook question is consent. Consent is a tool that can take care of that. If you think about the number of consent forms that parents have to sign for their kids in the context of attending school, I don’t see why that can’t be a solution. There are other solutions, such as ministerial orders. The minister could say that it’s in the public interest that this information be disclosed outside of Canada.
[ Page 153 ]

Our provision is not risk-based. It says that personal information has to be stored and accessed within Canada, except consent, ministerial order, use of social media.

There are tools. Again, I haven’t been persuaded that there aren’t solutions to some of the challenges that public bodies are facing. I understand it’s frustrating, but I think the whole world is grappling with this problem. I haven’t heard that British Columbia’s solution is out of date, specifically in the context of the European decision about safe harbour.

M. McEvoy: If I could just briefly add to that. The commissioner has said, myself and a number of other people who are actually behind me, on the task of engaging, particularly with the K-to-12 sector, where…. There are many opportunities to use some of the latest and greatest in technology to engage kids in learning, to look for solutions that allow for the use of that technology while still complying with section 30.1.

In a number of circumstances, I think, we’ve found a way to do that — not in all. It’s not a completely magic bullet. We recognize some of those challenges and work carefully and methodically with members — again, as an example, with the K-to-12 community — to find some of those solutions and to allow kids to take advantage of some of the technology.


D. Eby: The issue of resources of the OIPC has come up a couple of times. I note in particular that in your report Access Denied, there was a significant level of resources expended in technological expertise related to the metadata and so on.

Do you, under our existing legislation, feel that you have the tools necessary to access additional resources when you need them for major investigations, without compromising your existing obligations under the act?

Then the second is: I was hoping you could just provide a little clarification around “significant breach.” What is a significant breach? For me, my data being breached would be significant. But is that what you mean — one person’s data and so on?

E. Denham: I’m going to start with your second question. It was: what do you mean by a significant breach? There’s a whole body of policy work and commentary and research around what a significant breach is. Forty-seven states in the U.S. have mandatory breach reporting laws; the European Union’s new regulation — mandatory breach; the U.K., etc.

Really, it’s a risk-based or a harm-based test. Is the disclosure of data reasonably expected to cause harm to the individual? That harm is not based on just financial harm. It could be reputational harm, etc. That would be a requirement to notify the individual and to report to our office, either where there is significant harm to the individual — expected significant harm — or to a large group of individuals.

There’s a lot of research and policy around the determination of what a significant breach is. I can certainly provide more detail on that to the committee.

How could I forget about the resource question? I’m talking to some of your colleagues tomorrow. I’m making a presentation to the Finance and Government Services Committee with my ask for the budget next year.

I will tell you that we had to expend about $50,000 to bring in some expert resources and have legal counsel to assist us with the investigation in Access Denied. So we had forensic examination of metadata, etc. That was an extraordinary expense.

However, I’m finding that more and more of our investigations require the use of a forensic lab. We are looking more and more at digital technologies and investigating on the privacy side and on the access side.

The short answer to your question is: no, I don’t have significant resources. The other problem we have is a large backlog of access-to-information appeals. Most files that come into our office have to sit in a queue for six months before they’re assigned to an investigator, because we don’t have enough resources to assign to those files. I can’t give an investigator more than 35 files on their desk. There is a long wait for our services. I believe that’s unacceptable to British Columbians.

D. McRae (Chair): Thank you very much. I’d like to thank the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner and all of the presenters today for their well-thought-out presentations, whether they were in person or via technology.

I’d also like to remind the people presenting today, those in the gallery and those watching at home that if they wish to make a submission in writing, they can do so up to January 29, 2016. I thank the committee members for their efforts today — and those who presented.

Thank you, and I adjourn this meeting.

The committee adjourned at 12:33 p.m.

Hansard Services publishes transcripts both in print and on the Internet.
Chamber debates are broadcast on television and webcast on the Internet.
Question Period podcasts are available on the Internet.