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A year after BCCLA discovers RCMP audit, submissions due on B.C. government efforts to keep it secret

A year to the day after the BCCLA first issued a press release announcing a secret audit done by the B.C. government of the RCMP, submissions are due in an inquiry into the government’s refusal to release the document. At the request of the BCCLA, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is investigating the continuing refusal of the provincial government to release the file. The BCCLA’s original FOI request for the document took place in October of 2010.

“The Solicitor General is stonewalling the public and the Legislature by not putting forth this audit. It is required by law that transparency and accountability exist for proposed major expenditures like the RCMP contract being negotiated. Her bureaucrats may think that democratic government is inconvenient, but the public is entitled to the information and it is an affront to democracy for the Solicitor General to sit on the report,” said Robert Holmes, Q.C., President of the BCCLA. “No one imagined we’d have to wait a year and still not learn what the government spent tax dollars getting with this audit. No justification for delay has been offered and none exists.”

The audit was secretly commissioned by the Provincial government in relation to contract negotiations with the RCMP taking place in relation to a 20 year policing contract with B.C. Although there are express provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that require the government to disclose the results of audits, the Government is claiming “cabinet privilege” over the audit, which was completed by the Ministry of Finance.

“It is difficult to imagine an issue of more importance to British Columbians than who they are policed by and how they are policed,” noted Holmes. “This untendered contract, over the 20 year span, is worth billions of dollars. How can the public have a meaningful say in instructing our elected representatives if they are keeping the information they have on the RCMP’s performance secret? If this were a negotiation with a bus manufacturer for new buses, we’d see the refusal to release the audit as unacceptable collusion with a particular vendor, and it’s no better in this case.”

The Federal government has set a deadline of November 30, 2011 for the contract with the RCMP to be negotiated and signed.

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Robert Holmes, Q.C., President, (604) 838-6856

David Eby, Executive Director, (778) 865-7997

BACKGROUNDER: TIMELINE ON THE SECRET “RCMP AUDIT”

The secret RCMP audit was commissioned at an indeterminate date in advance of the RCMP contract negotiations by the Provincial Government, while Kash Heed was Solicitor General. The audit was completed by the Ministry of Finance. The following is a rough timeline of the BCCLA’s efforts to obtain a copy of the audit:

October 7, 2010 – The BCCLA files a Freedom of Information request with the Ministry of Finance.

November 1, 2010 – The BCCLA receives a fee request from the Ministry of Finance for $708.00 including a $354.00 initial deposit to release the audit and associated documentation.

November 8, 2010 – The BCCLA files a fee waiver request.

November 24, 2010 – The Ministry refuses the fee waiver.

November 24, 2010 – Rich Coleman, then Solicitor General, tells multiple media outlets the audit is “in a draft form and it’s not completed yet. When it’s in final form and won’t compromise any of the negotiations, we’ll release it.”

December 22, 2010 – The BCCLA files an appeal with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

July 12, 2011 – The Ministry reconsiders its decision and waives the fee.

July 12, 2011 – The Ministry refuses to disclose the audit under s.12, which relates to Cabinet confidences.

August 10, 2011 – The OIPC advises the BCCLA that the audit is “in draft form” and “is being prepared for submission to Treasury Board or Cabinet” and that “Treasury Board or Cabinet have not yet received the record.”

October 4, 2011 – Shirley Bond, Solicitor General, tells the Times Colonist “I think the purpose of the audit was to help inform the negotiations that are taking place and that’s what we’re going to use it for, so we’re not planning to make that public – at any time in the short term at least.”

November 17, 2011 – The BCCLA receives notice that the government intends to rely on secret evidence to defend the decision not to release the secret audit. “Therefore, the public bodies are requesting authorization for these documents [Exhibits A to C of an affidavit] to be submitted on an in camera basis.”

The Budget Transparency and Accountability Act requires that service plans be provided by each ministry, including “government priorities”, “specific objectives and expected results” and a “fiscal forecast”. The Solicitor General’s Revised Service Plan, dated 11 May 2011, is silent on RCMP contracts, negotiations and audits.