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Demanding Transparency for Indigenous Covid Response

The BC Civil Liberties Association and BC Freedom of Privacy and Information Association have jointly written to Information and Privacy Commissioner Micheal McEvoy regarding the provincial Minister of Health’s refusal to disclose COVID-19 case information to Indigenous governments.

The Heiltsuk First Nation, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, and Tsilhqot’in National Government have made repeated requests for information to the Ministry of Health relating to presumptive and confirmed COVID-19 cases proximate to their communities. The Ministry of Health, however, refuses to disclose this information. The three Indigenous governments have now filed a complaint with the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Section 25 of The Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act (FIPPA) says that the head of a public body (e.g., the Minister of Health) “must” disclose information

(a) about a risk of significant harm to the environment or to the health or safety of the public or a group of people, or

(b) the disclosure of which is, for any other reason, clearly in the public interest.

These three Indigenous governments have filed a complaint under this section of FIPPA and maintain that their rights are being violated by the Ministry of Health’s failure to disclose information that is clearly in the interest of both the public and of Indigenous Peoples. Our joint letter support the legal position of the Heiltsuk First Nation, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, and Tsilhqot’in National Government. In light of the BC government’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA), which enshrines the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and requires BC to “take all measures necessary to ensure the laws of British Columbia are consistent with the Declaration,” the Ministry’s repeated refusals are unacceptable.

Indigenous communities in BC are most vulnerable to COVID-19 and yet, they are not being given critical information about where cases are in the province to inform their community decision-making. This lack of information has caused outbreaks in communities where they could have been prevented.

We defend Indigenous nations’ right to information so they have the tools they need to effectively protect their communities. We call on the B.C. government to share proximate case information with Indigenous nations, on a government-to-government basis.

You can read our letter to the Information and Privacy Commissioner here.

Sign a petition to uphold Indigenous governments’ right to life-saving health information, so Indigenous communities can #keepsafe.

Learn more about the legal complaint and campaign here.