Privacy watchdog rules that health authority must release privatization contracts to HEU

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It’sa precedent-setting decision that could lead to the disclosure of lucrativeprivatization contracts throughout the public sector.

OnAugust 16, the B.C. Office of the Informationand Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) ordered the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority (VCHA)to release the full details of its commercial contracts with Compass, Sodexoand K-Bro Linen Systems to the Hospital Employees’ Union.

HEU had filedrequests for the contracts in 2007 under the Freedom of Information andProtection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), but VCHA would only release redacteddocuments, that is, documents where words or sections were blocked out.

VCHAargued that it was entitled to hold back this information citing certainprovisions in the Act.

HEU thenrequested a review by the OIPC of VCHA’s decision to hold back information inthe contracts.

Duringthat review, Compass, Sodexo and K-Bro argued that a full release of theircontracts would reveal information that might be advantageous to theircompetitors. But the OIPC found that the corporations failed to make theircases.

HEUsecretary-business manager Judy Darcysays the precedent-setting ruling could open up billions of dollars ofprivatization contracts to public scrutiny.

“Inthe last decade, there has been unprecedented privatization throughout thepublic sector in B.C. and it’s all happened with very little public scrutiny,”says Darcy.

“Hopefully,this ruling will result in a higher standard of accountability to the public –and a clearer picture of the true costs of these controversial policies.”

Inher ruling, privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham states, “Given that thesecontracts are frequently requested under freedom of information requests,public bodies could promote greater accountability and decrease theiradministrative burden by making most contracts publicly available oncenegotiations are complete...”

HEUsecretary-business manager Judy Darcyagrees.

“Accessto information needs to be simple, straightforward and timely – and in manycases, routine,” says Darcy. “The public deserves to know how their money isbeing spent.”

Inaddition to the commercial contracts and subsequent amendments to them, theunion has asked for copies of the business cases and other documents related toVCHA’s decision to contract out housekeeping, dietary and laundry services.

Compass,Sodexo and/or K-Bro may have 30 days from the date of the decision to request ajudicial review.