Skip to main content

Vancouver Board of Education official trustee Dianne Turner speaks to media at the Vancouver School Board offices in October. Turner was made the VSB's sole trustee after the rest of the board was fired in October.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The Vancouver School Board could – and should – release a full report into bullying and harassment at the board, despite privacy concerns that have so far kept it under wraps, a privacy expert maintains.

"It is part of a pattern of government releasing only what it wants from these reports, and hiding behind claims the privacy laws prevent them from doing otherwise," Vincent Gogolek, the executive director of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA), said on Monday.

Mr. Gogolek was referring to the VSB's decision to release the executive summary of a bullying investigation, rather than the full report.

Story continues below advertisement

The summary, released Friday, found concerns regarding a "toxic work environment" were valid and that board members routinely engaged in conduct that was "uncivil, disrepectful and rude."

The full report was not released. The VSB said it had consulted with B.C.'s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) to ensure the release process "is appropriate and compliant with privacy laws" and was working on a redacted report in response to anticipated Freedom of Information requests.

It's not unusual for public bodies to take a cautious approach to releasing information, said Dan Burnett, a media and defamation lawyer with Owen Bird in Vancouver.

"They [the VSB] may be concerned about releasing a report that either directly or implicitly identifies people, [because of privacy issues] – they would be in violation of the statute to do that, so sometimes you see public bodies take ultracautious approaches," Mr. Burnett said.

In addition, the VSB may also be trying to head off potential legal action or trying to strike a balance between its obligation to disclose information and its desire to minimize potential negative publicity.

"Do they think an executive summary fulfills their mandate without fanning the flames of media stories any more than they have to be? Any of those, or any combination of those, are what pop into my mind," Mr. Burnett said.

The FIPA's Mr. Gogolek, however, views the VSB decision as part of a pattern in which the government has used privacy legislation to withhold or delay disclosure of information.

Story continues below advertisement

In 2015, he complained to the OIPC about the government's position that it could not post online two high-profile 2014 reports – one related to compensation at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and the other related to firings in the Ministry of Health – due to purported restrictions in the act.

In a July, 2015, response to Mr. Gogolek, the OIPC said such reports could be posted online pursuant to a minister's order – but that "the absence of a more readily available authority" was a shortcoming in the act.

Later that year, in November, the OIPC recommended in a submission to a legislative committee that the act be changed to streamline disclosure of some reports, saying the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act "was never intended to shield the government from accountability; rather, one of its key purposes is to promote accountability."

In May, 2016, a legislative committee recommended the act be amended to allow public bodies to "post non-statutory investigation or fact-finding reports online where the public interest in disclosure outweighs the privacy interests."

To date, the government has not acted on any of the committee's regulations.

Despite that, the VSB could seek a ministerial order to release the whole report, Mr. Gogolek said.

Story continues below advertisement

It is up to the VSB to determine how it releases information, OIPC spokeswoman Erin Beattie said Monday in an e-mail.

"Disclosure can be required in response to an access request and there are provisions in FIPPA that may allow for proactive disclosure," Ms. Beattie said.

"The primary concern in both of these instances involves disclosure of third-party personal information and it is the responsibility of VSB to ensure they balance the need for transparency with the personal privacy of individuals."

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
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

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

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