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Fire Underwriters’ Investigation Bureau

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The B.C. Civil Liberties Association received complaints that the seven or eight investigators working for the Fire Underwriter’s Investigation Bureau in British Columbia are provided with what is, or should be, confidential information by members of the police forces and fire marshals in the province, which is then used by insurance companies to deny claims resulting from fires and to deny applications for fire insurance. While our Association does not object to public investigation agencies providing appropriate information to private persons or groups in a systematic and non-discriminatory manner, we are of the opinion that the procedures which it is alleged are followed at the present time involve violations of some citizens’ rights.

We understand that the investigators working for the Bureau are all ex-police officers generally working in the areas in which they formerly worked as members of police forces. In these circumstances, most of them continue close ties with present members of the police force in their area in which they work. Such close relationships enable the private investigators working for the Bureau to accompany police and fire marshals to the scenes of fires and to be present, without being identified as investigators for the Bureau, when police officers question owners of property destroyed by fire—sometimes even participating in the questioning themselves. In addition, we are told that not infrequently these private investigators are given access to police files in police stations, and to the files of fire marshals situated in their offices.

Finally, we understand that the Police Identification Branch from time to time provides Bureau investigators with identification and criminal record checks on applicants for fire insurance and on those making claims upon their insurance companies for losses incurred by fires.

It should be clear that the information which it is claimed is being provided by the police and fire marshals to private investigators of the Bureau is not the formal and factual information normally available to the public, such as is provided to interested persons in the case of traffic accidents. We are referring to information that is generally regarded as confidential by public authorities.

We suggest that it is fairly obvious that much of this information consists of unsubstantiated statements made by witnesses, which may later be discounted by the police or many never be checked by them. We would also draw attention to the dangers inherent in a public agency like the police provided information to one class of citizens which it can use against another, without allowing a reciprocal use of its resources. Beyond this, we do not think it is necessary to belabour the reasons why these are dangerous practices and involve infringement of citizens’ civil liberties.

We have done our best to check on the validity of the claims made by complainants and have concluded that so far as we have been able to ascertain, they are true. In the circumstances, we think that the Attorney General should be made aware of the practices which are alleged to occur, and that he will no doubt wish to investigate the situation in order to determine whether these claims are true and if so, to take action to ensure that they are discontinued.