The BC Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is investigating the legal nature and practices of British Columbia’s two police chief associations and, as part of that process, will be soliciting public input until January 17th, 2014 (revised deadline is now February 14, 2014.). Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is considering whether to recommend that the BC Association of Chiefs of Police (BCACP) and BC Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police (BCAMCP) should be declared to be “public bodies” and be made subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). The OIPC’s official announcement will appear within the next few days. (Dec. 11: Her letter to stakeholders has now been released.)
This inquiry comes after I submitted to the OIPC in late October a 9-page letter and about 70 pages of evidence showing that the BCACP and BCAMCP have been secretly operating as de facto governing bodies for all police forces in British Columbia for decades.
The key issue here is important: BC police chiefs certainly should have the freedom to associate with each other in private, and to lobby government and publicly advocate. At the same time, however, it’s vital that important decisions by our police chiefs that affect the governance and operations of our public police forces should be reasonably transparent and accountable to the public. The problem is the way that our police chief associations are doing these two things at the same time, at the same meetings; the associations are operating as both private lobby groups and as public bodies, and up until now they have been doing it all in absolute secrecy out of the reach of laws covering either public or private bodies.
So either the associations must change the way they do business by clearly separating their private activities from their public activities, or the associations must be made fully subject to our public freedom of information laws.
If you’re media and would like to interview me, contact 250-388-6064 or email rob at robwipond dot com. If you have an interest in or concerns about policing in British Columbia, then I encourage you to write a letter to the OIPC at firstname.lastname@example.org . I also suggest sending copies to Andrew Wilkinson, Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizen’s Services (the ministry in charge of FIPPA) at TIACS.email@example.com and to Suzanne Anton, Minister of Justice and Attorney General at JAG.Minister@gov.bc.ca (the ministry in charge of policing), and to Premier Christy Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org
This could be precedent setting, because across Canada, many police chief associations have been for many years secretly operating in a similar kind of dual capacity, as both private lobby groups and as public governing bodies, and engaging in deep conflicts of interest and a total lack of accountability while doing so. In addition, this is a good opportunity to clarify a legal and political ‘test’ for what constitutes a public agency versus a private group — something which is relevant in many other situations where governments are increasingly operating in private-public ‘grey areas’. (See for example the 2009 Canadian Supreme Court case involving the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority in which the court worked to define “government body” as it relates to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.)
To learn more about the associations, here are the articles for Focus magazine that I’ve researched and written on this subject that have led up to this OIPC decision, along with some of the actual document evidence.
The articles in order:
Are BC Police Chiefs Evading the Law? (October 2012)
Is the Law Catching Up to BC’s Police Chiefs? (May 2013)
“Curiouser and Curiouser” (July 2013)
Coup de Police (November 2013) (If you’re only going to read one article, read this one.)
And if you’re keenly interested to know more, below are the records finally obtained during mid-2013 which are discussed in “Coup de Police”. These are pdf files that contain hundreds of pages, so they’ll take some time to download. I suggest right-clicking on the filename and choosing “save link as” or “save file as”:
Records pertaining to the BCACP and BCAMCP from the past two years in the custody of the BC Ministry of Justice, which were generated by the BC government.
All records pertaining to the BCAMCP in the custody of the Victoria, Saanich, Central Saanich, and West Vancouver police departments.
All records pertaining to the BCACP in the custody of the Victoria, Saanich, Central Saanich, and West Vancouver police departments.