The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) has awarded B.C.’s NDP government its annual Code of Silence award for its changes to the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).
Premier John Horgan, Minister of Citizens’ Services Lisa Beare and the provincial government were selected as the 2021 recipients for the award in the Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy in the provincial category.
The B.C. government received the accolade as a result of passing FIPPA amendments into law in Bill 22 last year.
Bill 22 was roundly criticized.
On Nov. 24, the government passed it despite protests from freedom-of-information advocates and journalism groups who called on Horgan and Beare not to pass the bill.
B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy also expressed concerns to Victoria about the bill.
Beare has said the changes would help people access services faster while strengthening privacy protections. Critics, meanwhile, have said it won't increase government transparency; rather, it will add roadblocks for those wanting to discover the inner workings of the legislature. The changes, they say, could thwart the uncovering of government scandals or impede a citizen’s right to know how their tax dollars are being spent.
“The B.C. government’s bold efforts to significantly walk back transparency legislation has undermined freedom of the press and the public's ability to monitor the provincial government’s actions," Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) board member Patti Sonntag said.
The B.C. Union of Indian Chiefs had said in an open letter that the introduction of fees for freedom-of-information requests about government activities would disproportionately impact low-income requesters, including First Nations seeking to substantiate land claims and land-related grievances.
“This really sets the premier, and his government, apart from the rest of the pack this year,” the CAJ said.
The awards are presented annually by the CAJ, the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University and the CJFE.
The intent of the awards is to call public attention to government or publicly funded agencies that work hard to hide information that should be available under access-to-information legislation.