Ok. This one is really troubling. On many levels.
Hands up everyone who thought you were entitled to file a Freedom of Information request for records from BC Ferries without having the company’s CEO phone you at home and demand to know who you represent and why you want the information.
That’s exactly what happened to one of the directors of the fledgling British Columbia Coastal Transportation Society, just hours after she hit the “send” button on a request for safety and operations records.
After declining to explain herself, she was finally sent an official response that said the record she wanted didn’t exist — the FOI equivalent of a giant middle finger.
Here’s the story:
Jackie Miller is one of the directors of the transportation society, which was formed a year or so back to promote the cause of an efficient, affordable and integrated transportation system on our coast. While they don’t exactly put it this way, the group was born of the expertise assembled during the Save Our Ferries campaign, initially a child of the ferry worker’s union but now an independent project. It was incorporated as a society and broadened the scope to all sorts of coastal transport.
I haven’t had much to do with the group, other than to check in on its assorted campaigns now and then. It struck me as a unique bunch of people with increasingly broad experience who are slowly building a body of material arguing for retention of things like seaplanes, lighthouses and coast guard services.
To that end, the group amasses material to analyse. And while I don’t know exactly why it was asking for the records they wanted, I suspect it had to do with monitoring safety issues and regulatory compliance at BC Ferries — things its initial campaign dealt with.
Back to Jackie Miller.
Her name will be familiar. She is the former head of the BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union, which she left in 2009 when she retired from the company. My observation of Miller, as a journalist who had to interview her frequently, is that she was utterly fierce about holding the company to account for its safety practices — an attitude she also aimed at Transport Canada, which writes and enforces (in theory) most of the regulations that BC Ferries has to comply with.
After the Queen of the North sank in 2006 and the company was backed into a corner about its horrible safety record, it set up a program called SailSafe to rebuild its operations in a way that would maximize safety. (That was the goal, anyway. The reviews are mixed on how it’s worked out.) The program was co-chaired by the union and the company, partly in a show of good faith, and partly because a safety investigation by BC’s auditor-general had ruled that the dysfunctional relation between Ferries and its workforce was part of the problem.
Miller, as “CEO” of the union, sat as co-chair for her side. Corrigan, who was a vice-president at the time, co-chaired for the company. (It was never clear why then-CEO David Hahn didn’t take direct part, especially since the experts hired to come in and rebuild the system suggested it should be him.)
All of which is a long way of saying that Miller knows her stuff, knows the company, knows the SailSafe program and knows Corrigan. But she’s sitting in a new chair now, years later, as director of a group that has to request records via the same FOI process that the rest of us have to use.
On July 20th of this year, on behalf of the society, she filed an FOI request to Ferries asking for “the tracking document for marine incidents and operational occurrences from the Operations and Security Centre for the period commencing June 2009 to date.”
About two hours later, Corrigan phoned Miller at home and left a message on her answering machine, saying that ”he had been advised that the FOI had been filed and that my name was attached to them. His main concern appeared to be about the (society). He said something to the effect of: ‘I want you to tell me what the BCCTS is all about.’ I felt his call was inappropriate and not directed specifically towards assisting me with meeting our FOI request.”
That’s what Miller told me, in precise and restrained terms, when I called her myself to ask about the issue. Pressed, she said it sounded like Corrigan was demanding answers. And that he sounded stressed.
Unhappy with the message on her machine, Miller contacted Ferries’ FOI officer about the fact her name had been passed along to Corrigan, something she thought was a breach of confidentiality. The note back from the FOI office at Ferries said, among other things, that her contact details aren’t personal information, and that Corrigan is entitled to see them:
“As you may know, the chair of BC Ferries is the designated head of BC Ferries for the purposes of the FOIPP Act. The chair has delegated decision-making responsibilities for FOI requests to BC Ferries’ officers, of which Mr. Corrigan is one. It was in this capacity that Mr. Corrigan received your name and telephone number,” Miller was told.
“Mr. Corrigan was contacting you to obtain more information about the Society (we reiterate your name and phone number was the contact information given in the Society’s request) and to discuss the Society’s requests, in accordance with sections 6, 32(a) and (c), 33, and the subsections of the FOIPP Act identified above. We regret that Mr. Corrigan’s sincere effort appears to have been misconstrued as a possible “breach of confidentiality”.
So to sum up…
And just so we’re all on the same page here…
Apparently anyone asking BC Ferries for copies of records that they are, by law, entitled to, can now expect there’s a chance the half-a-million-dollar-a-year CEO of the company might get on the blower to demand a few answers of his own. About you.
Next up: Part Two, in which we ponder why the records Miller asked for are so important, and why BC Ferries is making it so hard to get copies of them.