B.C. privacy watchdog raises series of red flags
VICTORIA — British Columbia’s privacy watchdog is demanding the province change four pieces of legislation — and in one case scrap a bill altogether — because of concerns over personal privacy and government transparency.
Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has sent four critical letters to provincial ministers this month — the most recent Friday — chastising them for a host of problems in their bills.
It’s rare for an independent watchdog such as Denham to raise so many red flags in such a short period of time, and the province’s Opposition NDP says it is an indication of sloppy government work being rushed through the legislature in the final days of the spring session.
Denham has asked government to withdraw its Emergency Intervention Disclosure Act, which would let emergency workers get court orders to compel blood samples from people in high-risk situations.
The legislation doesn’t strike the right balance, Denham wrote, and infringes on a person’s liberties by forcing them give blood samples, potentially against their will.
“Removing an individual’s right to control their bodily integrity is the most intrusive form of privacy infringement,” the commissioner said in a May 3 letter.
Denham also targeted a government bill designed to lower generic drug prices and enshrine a PharmaCare program in law, saying it reduces transparency and gives the health minister too broad an authority to dis_close personal information.
Changes to the Coastal Ferry Act, which boost the powers of the independent ferry commissioner, are a “step backward” for transparency because they let the commissioner choose not to publish some of the financial documents BC Ferries uses to justify fare hikes, Denham wrote in a separate letter Friday.
The commissioner expressed “deep concern” about the Animal Health Act, which government said would improve response to an animal disease outbreak. Denham said it overrides freedom-of-information legislation and removes the public’s right to access certain records on animal testing.
Denham also raised alarms that the animal legislation gives the province’s chief veterinarian “unlimited powers” to collect and use personal information in an emergency, and gives the minister too much power to make regulations in an emergency.
But those concerns appear to have been brushed aside by the Agriculture Ministry. “As for the commissioner’s outstanding concerns, the ministry respectfully disagrees with her interpretation,” it said in a statement to the Victoria Times Colonist.
NDP House leader John Horgan said in his seven years as a member of the provincial legislature, he had never seen so many objections, in such a short period of time, from a privacy commissioner.
Combined with typos found in other government bills, the legislation shows signs of “shoddy work,” Horgan said.
There are only eight sitting days left for the legislature this spring, with more than 20 bills yet to be fully debated. “If we can’t review this stuff in some detail, the chances of bad legislation passing is very high,” Horgan said.