Skip to main content
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
Get full digital access to globeandmail.com
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
// //

Pictures of Kathleen O' Reilly and British Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott are part of a collection in the Archives building at the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria.

Chad Hipolito/The Globe and Mail

There are 33,000 boxes of important provincial documents abandoned in a warehouse, orphaned by a lack of government interest and funding, says British Columbia's information and privacy czar.

In her report released Tuesday, Elizabeth Denham said the neglect is severely hampering access to information and the public's right to know about key decisions of their government.

"I was shocked to learn that no government records had been transferred or preserved in the BC Archives for the last 10 years," Denham said in an interview.

Story continues below advertisement

"It's a significant problem for good governance; it's a significant problem from an access to information perspective."

Government transferred the BC Archives from the province to the Royal British Columbia Museum in 2003.

Unfortunately, no money went with the transfer of responsibility and the museum said it could only afford to maintain the existing archives. It put in place a fee of $454 per box to archive new material — a fee no ministry was interested in paying.

Tens of thousands of boxes later, they're still not interested, and Denham said valuable government records documenting everything from case files to cabinet records are languishing.

"The time to act is now. The longer this impasse goes on with the archives, the more expensive and more difficult the solution is going to be," she said.

Right now, those records are only accessible through a Freedom of Information request — an expensive legal process — when they should be available in the reading room of the archive, Denham said.

And there is no plan, no legal framework and no technical capacity to archive the growing "tsunami" of digital records, Denham said.

Story continues below advertisement

"We are operating on a statute that was passed in 1936 ... that was the year before the photocopier was invented," she said.

Andrew Wilkinson, the provincial minister of technology, innovation and citizen's services, declined an interview request. He released a statement saying the province is meeting its legal obligations for storage.

"Already we are working with the Royal BC Museum to find solutions for a portion of the government records that need to be archived," it said.

His government is also exploring new approaches for management of government records, the statement said.

The report made three recommendations, including that BC Archives be returned to the government fold and money be provided to deal with the backlog and to archive documents going forward.

Government should also create a system for preserving digital information and update the Document Disposal Act to address the digital age, it said.

Story continues below advertisement

Denham said the status quo will have significant financial and historical consequences if the failure is not addressed.

It's not the first time the commissioner has rebuked government. Denham previously called on the province to protect health data in the digital age and questioned a troubling number of provincial Freedom of Information requests that turn up no records.

The "orphaned archives is one example of the government's lack and deficiencies" in information management, she said.

Vincent Gogolek, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, said transparency is not a priority for the Liberal government.

He cited one case in which records related to the controversial 2003 sale of BC Rail could not be found, only to surface later.

"And that's for documents that were supposed to be set aside for a court process," Gogolek said.

Story continues below advertisement

There have been calls for improvement but not much response, he said.

"If you don't want people to be able to find things, this kind of benign neglect — it works."

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies