City MLA wants cost of federal crime bill
BY JENNIFER MOREAU, BURNABY NOW
How much will the federal government's omnibus crime bill cost B.C.? That's the billion dollar question one local politician is asking, and blank documents released through freedom of information requests aren't helping solve the mystery.
Burnaby MLA Kathy Corrigan, the NDP's public safety and corrections critic, made freedom of information requests on the provincial government's costing and correspondence in respect to Bill C-10, also known as the omnibus crime bill. She received roughly 300 pages of documents, but information on costing was redacted.
"All the pages that have to do with costing are blanked out," Corrigan said. "Either they haven't got very far along, and they don't know what the costs are, or they are hiding the truth, and I just don't know why they won't tell British Columbians what the costs are of Bill C-10."
The federal Conservatives passed the bill in March. It calls for tougher measures to fight crime, but politicians like Corrigan have raised concerns about who will bear the brunt of the costs.
"We know there's going to be a very significant impact on the justice system in B.C., particularly corrections," she said. "It could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars for B.C. We just don't know, and it's time we do know."
According to Justice Minister Shirley Bond, the missing information was justified.
"The severing in the FOI is in line with exceptions under the Freedom of Information and (Protection of) Privacy Act, including information that could be harmful to intergovernmental relations, or that which is not responsive to the particular request. These decisions are made by professional public servants. It's important to note that small sections of the more than 350 pages of records were subject to severing, the majority of the records were, in fact, released," she said. "Since we first got notification that the federal government was to bring in the bill, my ministry has been working to come up with an accurate estimate of costs, as it would be irresponsible to start guessing at numbers without them being based on fact."
Mark Weiler, a local freedom of information expert, said the government should not have withheld the costing information.
"If the cost estimates are relating to a policy or project of the public body, they are not allowed to withhold. And if they are, they are doing it unlawfully," he said.
According to the act, public bodies can withhold information, but only under certain conditions.
The costing information was blanked out under section 16 and 13. Section 16 states information that could harm intergovernmental relations can be withheld. But, Weiler said, the government has to prove harm.
"Just because that information is about inter-government relations, that doesn't give full power to withhold it. The next step they have to do is show it causes harm, and the burden of proof is on them."
The other exemption used, outlined in Section 13, states that information that would reveal advice or recommendations developed by or for a public body or a minister can be withheld, something Weiler takes issue with.
"Everyone kind of knows that the government tries to hide everything under Section 13. It's a known problem," he said, adding that there's no broad interpretation of what policy advice is. "The provincial government has been getting away with this far too long."