Canada FOI Resource Website

By Stanley Tromp, Vancouver
Freedom of information policy, study, law reform, journalism

A non-governmental resource site


News Articles by Stanley Tromp, based on Freedom of Information Request

Some of the following links go to PDF and Excel documents, which may need to be individually downloaded on some devices.

Author’s editorials on FOI problems

In July 1983, B.C. premier Bill Bennett introduced his extremist Restraint Budget. In response, the B.C. Solidarity Coalition citizens’ protest movement was formed – a diverse, broad-based gathering of dozens of community groups. Yet worried RCMP agents wrote in memos that “subversives” from the Communist Party of Canada created and controlled the Coalition. The Mounties believed the party exploited public fears and exacerbated labour unrest like puppeteers, all with the goal of taking over the provincial government and toppling the B.C. capitalist economic system.

2019 marked the 30th anniversary of the December 1989 Romanian Revolution that overthrew the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, in which more than 1,000 people were killed. To prepare for this event, I utilized the FOI laws of three nations – Britain, the United States and Canada – to obtain more than 1,000 pages of diplomatic cables that had been sent from inside their embassies in Bucharest, as the storm raged outside in the streets. (The American State Department took 10 years to fulfill the request.) For the interest of the Romanian people, I digitally scanned all the papers and posted these PDFs on my website. These received thousands of web visits from that nation, and prompted many news reports there. Sample of records

Washington State officials privately complained about a lack of information on the ingredients of the diluent used in the Trans Mountain oil pipeline. “There is definitely a need for full disclosure and transparency regarding the products used to create bitumen and other crude oil diluents and their properties,” wrote the department’s habitat stewardship specialist. “Without these questions being answered to an exhaustive degree, how can the public be asked to accept these risks?  How can we honestly say that we are ‘prepared’? … The times of oil companies asking the public to trust them are over.” 

“A catastrophic oil spill would set the Puget Sound cleanup effort back decades, and result in billions of dollars in harm to our economy and environment,” Washington State Ecology Department officials wrote to their governor, adding that the Canadian oil response regime is “probably a couple of decades” behind the American one. As well, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lawyers discussed suing Canada’s NEB for the right to more fully provide input in the Transmountain pipeline hearings.

Canada’s ambassador to the United States wrote to the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, urging the EPA to disregard greenhouse gas emissions from Alberta oil extraction as it decided whether to support the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to Texas.  As well, one Alberta bureaucrat warned the EPA its greenhouse gas policies could place at risk “the longstanding energy trading relationship between our two jurisdictions.”

Our B.C. freedom of information request to Island Health for the drug loss numbers since January, 2015 showed no losses from any Victoria hospital. But an  ATI request to Health Canada in Ottawa came back with a startlingly different result: Island Health had informed Ottawa that its Royal Jubilee Hospital  had lost 1,251 millilitres of liquid fentanyl solution in late 2015—in a category only called “loss unexplained.” This was never reported to Victoria police, but by contrast, the FOI records show, fentanyl losses from VIHA’s Cowichan and Nanaimo hospitals were reported to local RCMP.

Across British Columbia, the units of narcotics lost have more than tripled, from 778 in 2012 to 2,416 in 2014. By law, B.C. hospitals must report each missing unit of controlled drugs to Health Canada in Ottawa within 10 days. Under the Access to Information Act, The Globe obtained a database of these losses from January 2012, to May 2015. In total, 7,023 units of drugs disappeared in that period, with the heaviest losses by far from smaller and rural hospitals. Mission Memorial Hospital lost 1,128 tablets of morphine and oxycodone in 2014 from “pilferage” – nearly as many units as the rest of the B.C. hospitals combined.

Police are investigating allegations of fraud within the faculty of medicine at the University of British Columbia. Audits say that, two years ago, the school fired a medical researcher for improperly claiming the same expenses two or three times from UBC, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and the BC Cancer Agency, and it is estimated that UBC lost $425,000.

An expert legal panel hired by the B.C. government to advise on whether to approve a religious-based law school at Trinity Western University expressed “serious reservations about major aspects” of the plan, yet eight months later the government approved the school anyway. (It reversed its approval the next year.)

An audit by the Ministry of Finance highlighted many safety violations – including fire hazards, potential carbon monoxide poisoning and natural gas leaks, with “general neglect over a long period of time” – at Vancouver Community College. KD Engineering, VCC’s building management company for 31 years, had been hired without tender, and was paid $1 million a year with no written contract.

The minutes of Ottawa cabinet meetings the late 1980s, sealed for 20 years, show some ministers argued that abortion be outlawed, punishable by up to 10 years in prison for those who performed it. The Conservatives privately considered criminal penalties for women who self-aborted, and one draft resolution would have banned the abortion of malformed fetuses. It also provides a window on an era where ministers and backbenchers had more freedom to publicly dissent from the Prime Minister.

Minutes of the cabinet meetings for the year before the 1987 capital punishment vote show that most ministers appeared to have no enthusiasm for reinstatement, despite its popularity with the public and in the Tory caucus.

American scientists are warning that there are environmental risks, regulatory holes and serious unknowns regarding the shipment of Alberta oil-sands products by pipeline, rail and tanker. The findings are in a report by the emergency response division of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA.

Officials in British Columbia privately warned the province lacks the ability to manage oil spills from existing and future oil traffic, and even a moderate spill would overwhelm their ability to respond. Ottawa’s decision to deal with coastal oil spills from a base in Quebec would make it much harder to contain spills, and Transport Canada and the Coast Guard lack the needed “environmental expertise” to manage them.

The internal audit of narcotics and controlled drugs at two Vancouver Coastal Health hospitals revealed “high-risk” findings of lax record-keeping, storage and disposal of drugs (notably oxycodone). A spokesperson said thefts in hospitals have led to discipline or charges, but released no details.

  • As FOI researcher – B.C. gov’t workers scam public. Special unit: Documents implicate more than 20 employees, not one is identified, by Sam Cooper. (The Province. Jan. 13, 2014)  Editorial: There should be no secrecy with government frauds (Jan. 16, 2014)

The schemes include an apparent rogue network of “public servants” bilking the health care system, and frauds aimed at autism, adoption, and childcare funding pools. One file reveals that in 2009 whistleblowers called a health care antifraud line to report two Lower Mainland medical supply retailers were involved in a false billing scheme. In 2011, the special investigative unit was informed of a probe involving the two businesses and four public servants from four provincial ministries.

Apart from the rising communications budget of Vancouver City Hall, Mayor Gregor Robertson is still spending more on external communications from a little known “discretionary fund” – $227,000 over the past two years, including about $110,000 on external consulting. Most went to travel, meeting, and dining expenses for Robertson and members of his office who use charge cards linked to the fund.

Vancouver City Hall internal emails suggest a convergence between Mayor Gregor Robertson’s political communications staff and impartial bureaucrats who are meant to serve the public.

The Tyee obtained databases via FOI from the BC Oil and Gas Commission naming the companies that were sent the 14 enforcement orders in 2012 and those that were issued the 77 tickets. The Commission had refused to publicly identify the violators.

More honest truck drivers are being lured into carrying illegal goods, and then gradually trapped in the lifestyle, said an RCMP criminal intelligence branch report. “For illicit cargo that is missing, the transporter is expected to provide compensation or risk harsh consequences. Violence associated to lost cargo includes beatings, kidnapping, and murder.”

Internal reports name the companies fined for payroll errors, cargo insurance premiums deducted from earnings, drivers not paid $200 call-out fees, nor a seven per cent fuel surcharge. Unpublished correspondence between Unifor and the Port officials has Unifor pleading for the PMV to “conduct a massive joint audit of all company drivers.”

Prepare for a Canadian and U.S. shift toward heavier forms of crude oil as global production of lighter crude oil sources decline, says a government report. As well, “Generally, heavier forms of crude oil, such as that contained in the oil sands, require more energy and resources to produce and refine, compared to lighter crude oil, resulting in higher air pollutant and GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions.”

From American national FOI Alberta’s largest buyer of oil appeared internally conflicted, torn between the need for a large secure oil supply and its desire to control carbon emissions. In the end, though, its support for energy supply won out. So wrote the U.S. government’s consul general for Alberta, who later became vice president for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

A private BC Lottery Corp. poll showed widespread public opposition towards destination-resort casinos, yet eight months later the B.C. government approved several of these anyways (notably in Penticton), after it had pledged to allow new casinos only in areas where they had local support. The BCLC resisted this reporter’s FOI request for the poll, up to an appeal to the B.C. Information Commissioner’s office, but gave it up the day before the Commission inquiry was due to begin.

The president of the B.C. Lottery Corporation, Vic Poleschuk, was fired one day after an internal poll showed public trust in the corporation had plummeted in the wake of a warning by the province’s Ombudsman of possible fraud by some retailers.

British Columbians are playing fewer of the BC Lottery Corporation’s games, less than half know where its profits go, and few have faith in programs to help problem gamblers, said an internal poll. During this period, the BCLC announced it would launch its online gambling PlayNow.com site.

If you played the B.C. Lottery Corporations Keno free second-chance contest, you might fairly wonder if you got the prize you were entitled to. That’s because a report from BCLC found that some lotto retailers failed to submit a winners list for the grand prize draw; these factors would cause a potential winner to be wrongly disqualified.

The British Columbia Lottery Corp. launched some Internet games and casino projects without performing a mandatory review that included assessing a game’s impact on problem gambling, an internal audit shows. The failure to do a social-responsibility review was highlighted as a problem that “should be addressed and resolved immediately.”

Five years after the BCLC wrestled with it biggest scandal – fraud by lottery retailers – a report meant to identify “risks that prizes are not paid to these right players” found that the many corrective measures taken since then only partially reduce the risks to lottery players today.

BC Hydro isn’t ready to respond to an earthquake or other catastrophic event, and this fact could lead to the widespread loss of electrical power for months and much public distress, said a Hydro report. On a “maturity level,” ranging from the lowest 1 to highest 5, Hydro’s disaster readiness was pegged at between 1 and 2.

After an earthquake in Japan damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, some people believed contaminated fish could reach Canadians’ dinner tables. B.C. public health officer Dr. Perry Kendall announced there was no risk, but he became so concerned about calming the public fears that he privately urged the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to carry out a special round of testing as a “vital communications initiative.”

Art, religion and politics collided when the Chinese consul to Vancouver privately wrote Mayor Gregor Robertson to urge him to boycott the Shen Yun Performing Arts dance show that was staged at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, calling it a veiled attack by Falun Gong on China.

The Chinese consul privately wrote to the UBC president about the construction of the Goddess of Democracy statute on UBC grounds (meant to protest the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre), claiming it was initiated not by students but by “newly immigrated Hong Kong businesspeople,” and: “Please find a way to stop it. In response, I will work harder to promote the academic exchanges between our two countries.”

In memos the RCMP privately fired back at Vancouver Police Department criticisms that the Mounties had done too little to catch serial killer Robert Pickton. For instance, the VPD stated that it had passed on all information about Pickton to the RCMP when it received it, because the Mounties had jurisdiction over the investigation on crimes occurring in Port Coquitlam, but the RCMP strongly disputed this was done.

After a three-year legal effort to block this reporter’s FOI request, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia was forced to reveal it paid $650,000 in “incentive pay” to its top executives in 2005 and 2006. The release order by the Information and Privacy Commission adjudicator rejected ICBC’s claims of officials’ privacy.

Washington State FOI
The proponents of two controversial pipelines to British Columbia’s coast say they would consider deploying underwater firecrackers, helicopters and clanging pipes, among other methods, to ensure whales don’t swim toward any disastrous oil spill that might result from increased tanker traffic carrying bitumen to Asia.

From Washington State FOI New risks from Canadian oil tanker spills confront the 1,100 sea otters living around the Olympic Peninsula, said an internal report by the Washington State Ecology Department.

Fraser Health spent $43.3 million on overtime this past year, up nearly $5 million from the previous year. The audit showed that two staffers were found to have worked astonishing amounts of overtime: one employee worked 1,358 hours of OT, the other, 1,075 hours, so each worked more than 3,000 hours a year total.

  • As FOI researcher – Some B.C. nurses’ overtime pay rival a doctor’s paycheque, by David Carrigg. (The Province. July 7, 2014).
  • $70-million cost of overtime blamed on shortage of specially trained nurses in B.C. Union president cites poor forecasting by health authorities. By Susan Lazaruk and Stanley Tromp (The Province, August 28, 2015).
  • Ministry Finds Holes in Oil and Gas Report  (Georgia Straight, Feb 7, 2002)

A report cited by the B.C. premier as a justification for lifting the 30-year ban on offshore drilling for oil and gas was criticized in bureaucrats’ memos for missing “essential elements” and having “very little value-added to guide government policy development.” On the report’s section on spill impacts on fish and wildlife, they noted: “Very superficial and quite misleading information.”

Bureaucrats in the B.C. Ministry of Education criticized the methodology of the Fraser Institute report cards on provincial schools on 23 counts as biased, inaccurate and misleading. The report cards are published in several B.C. newspapers as “education supplements” and influence parents’ decisions on which schools their children should attend, and even which neighbourhoods to move to. 

Many B.C. doctors are not reporting on the children they immunize, and children could be at risk of an “outbreak of vaccine preventable diseases” if immunization rates drop too low due to health workers who disparage vaccinations to parents, a government audit said.

Canadian police are struggling to combat business crime in the cloud computing world, an elusive and little-controlled realm that criminals can exploit to steal money and personal identities, and in which foreign governments can collect trade secrets. The report noted the security risks were rising quickly as more businesses and people adopted the cloud for their information storage.

A lack of oversight over nearly $100 million worth of health research funds at the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and the University of British Columbia could bring a risk of fraud and losses, problems that were assigned to the High Priority red category.

Organized crime groups could exploit banks located on Canadian Native reserves to launder money and grow their profits, according to an RCMP criminal intelligence report. That assessment followed a 2011 ruling by Canada’s top court that interest income earned from deposits in banks located on reserves is not taxable under the long-standing Section 87 of the Indian Act.

A B.C. government report warned that the legislative buildings in Victoria are at risk of collapse during an earthquake, endangering the 500 people who work there, and it urged that $182 million be spent in an eight year project for many needed improvements. After the speaker’s office refused to release the report, this reporter filed a FOI request for it, which was rejected, prompting an appeal to the B.C. Information Commissioner.

Despite the recent attention directed at foreign companies who reportedly list on Canadian exchanges to take improper advantage of this country’s capital markets, most criminal securities transactions involving Canadian-based companies and criminals take place on loosely regulated exchanges in the United States and Germany. These were the findings of an internal report by the RCMP criminal intelligence branch.

Tony Knowles, the former president of the British Columbia Institute of Technology, was paid a severance of $397,568 when he resigned, ending a stormy term. The settlement was obtained through FOI after BCIT refused to release it. As well, in an internal BCIT employee opinion survey, some described an environment characterized by “mistrust of management, fear of penalty for unsuccessful innovation, and safety though silence.”

Hundreds of incensed constituents flooded Premier Christy Clark’s email inbox in the days after the 2011 Stanley Cup riot. Most writers called for jail terms, hard labour, community service, firings, blacklisting, revoking of passports and driver’s licences, and more. They pledged votes for the premier if she took a harsh stance, and warned of the political consequences of leniency.

A massive changeover ongoing from Internet system IPv4 to IPv6 means your home computer, smart phones, TV, fridge, and home heating could all become connected to the Internet. But it could also creates a higher risk your banking data could be stolen and government infrastructure could be sabotaged, said an RCMP report.

The B.C. government’s health information manager, Maximus BC, was penalized $156,000 for performance failures in 2005. The health ministry resisted this reporter’s FOI request for five years until ordered by the B.C. Information Commissioner to disclose the fines and full contract.

A $900-million program to build civic projects across B.C. is plagued by poor business practices, untendered contracts and improper expense claims, an internal government audit warns. But the provincial Liberal government has so far opposed its own auditors’ advice to require competitive bids and conflict-of-interest rules for contractors. Internal documents show B.C. has insisted that municipalities be entrusted to oversee the $900 million in taxpayer-funded projects. “This is a huge story,” said Vancouver municipal lawyer Jonathan Baker.

More stories, as FOI researcher

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Stories on 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games 

As FOI researcher

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(My best non-FOI story, from the British Archives.)
A shot in the dark – Newfoundland governor privately urged London to send a warship to quell potential anti-Confederation riots in 1948.   By Stanley Tromp, The Vancouver Sun  (Aug. 23, 2008) 
LINK to original archival memos, scanned by the author.

Author’s other news stories