B.C. law to ban information on farm outbreaks
Overrides Freedom of Information law, carries stiff penaltyBy Ethan Baron, The Province May 22, 2012 6:41 AM
B.C.'s Liberal government is poised to further choke off the flow of public information, this time with respect to disease outbreaks. The Animal Health Act, expected to be passed into law by month's end, expressly over-rides B.C.'s Freedom of Information Act, duct-taping shut the mouths of any citizens - or journalists - who would publicly identify the location of an outbreak of agriculture-related disease such as the deadly bird flu.
"A person must refuse, despite the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, to disclose . . . information that would reveal that a notifiable or reportable disease is or may be present in a specific place or on or in a specific vehicle," Section 16 of the Act reads.
It is quite conceivable that the provincial government, in the event of a disease outbreak at a farm, would delay releasing a warning in order to protect the farm in question or the industry it's part of.
In that event, should you as a citizen hear about the outbreak, or if you were an employee at an affected farm, you would be breaking the law by speaking publicly about it or bringing concerns to the media.
Citizens or journalists breaking the Animal Health Act but not charged with an offence can be slapped with "administrative penalties," which are fines. And the legislation contains an additional attack on rights of citizens: if you don't pay your fine, a government representative simply files a paper in court that is the same, according to Sec. 80(2) of the Act, "as if it were a judgment of the court with which it is filed."
Except for the absence of a judge or any semblance of due process.
Ultimately, this legislation aims to protect businesses from disclosure of information that may harm their financial interests.
As B.C. Freedom of Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham revealed in a letter to provincial Agriculture Minister Don McRae, his ministry has expressed concern that the province's legal protection of "third-party business interests . . . does not adequately protect information related to farmers engaged in animal-health programs or subject to disease-management actions."
Ministry employees, animal-health inspectors and laboratory employees are specifically barred from disclosing information about farm-disease outbreaks.
Denham noted that it's extremely rare for a law to override freedom of information legislation. The Animal Health Act removes "the public's right to access various records regarding animal testing, including actions and reports relating to animal-disease management," Den-ham wrote.
The Animal Health Act would override another provincial law, the Offence Act. While the Offence Act caps punishment at a $2,000 fine and six months in jail for offences not drawing higher penalties in other legislation, the Animal Health Act says that section of the Offence Act doesn't apply, and lays out a punishment regime with penal-ties reaching to $75,000 fines and two years in prison. The offence of failing to keep information confidential falls among the violations drawing the highest penalties.
Read more: http://www.theprovince.com/news/information+farm+outbreaks/6657194/story.html#ixzz1vcVsC4AS