TORONTO, ONT., June 5, 2024 / CNW/ – The Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (VFRS) has been selected as this year’s recipient of the Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy in the municipal category for its efforts to charge exorbitantly high fees for access to a fire investigation report already paid for by taxpayers.

In June 2022 a Value Village store on East Hastings Street was burned to the ground. According to a story published by The Tyee, a local journalist filed an access to information request to obtain a copy of the VFRS fire investigation report to learn the cause of a blaze.

That request was refused. Instead, the journalist learned VFRS charged a minimum of $260 for a copy of each report.

Under B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the public’s access to documents can be refused if they are for sale. The law also does not put any restrictions on how much a government department or agency can charge for access to documents.

“Taxpayers have already footed the bill for producing the records,” said Brent Jolly, CAJ president.

“To then turn around and charge members of the public exorbitant fees to access critical information to understand the ‘why’ and ‘what happened’ about calamitous events casts a dark and shameful shadow on the state of transparency in B.C. This is just another example of how the province’s flawed access laws have taken the ‘free’ out of freedom of information.”

The Code of Silence Awards are presented annually by the CAJ, the Centre for Free Expression at Toronto Metropolitan University (CFE), and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE). The awards call public attention to government or publicly-funded agencies that work hard to hide information to which the public has a right to under access to information legislation.

Last year, the City of Prince George, B.C., was selected as the municipal winner of the Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy. The recognition spotlighted the city’s repeated and devastating failures to effectively conduct the public’s business in public – which included sharing information about how taxpayer dollars were being spent on city projects and operations in transparent ways.

This award completes this year’s Code of Silence program. Canada’s Department of National Defence (federal) and the Premier of Nova Scotia, Tim Houston (provincial), have previously been recognized during this year’s awards program, regrettably.

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