Monday, August 17, 2009

Freedom of Information or Terrorism?


Canadian bureaucrats need to wake up and smell the coffee. Drawings of the layout of Canada Line's ventilation systems, control room, and tunnels all have obvious implications for terrorists who wish to plan an attack. Perhaps the adjudicator would like InTransitBC provide detailed scenario of how to carry out an attack. A scenario that would be instructive to potential terrorists. What kind of evidence is needed?

Freedom of information is important for transparency and accountability of government activities, especially in terms of financial agreements. Infrastructural technical plans are not needed for transparency and accountability, especially when the Canada Line project was completed ahead of schedule and on budget.

It would be more useful if the Olympics Village project come under scrutiny, for its hidden financial agreements, its so called sustainable energy efficient construction that costs more and more each month, its over budget, and yet to be completed social housing units.

Terrorism is a real issue, especially during the Olympics. Bureaucrats need to pay more attention to it, and less to special interest lobbyists.


The operators of the Canada Line have been ordered to reveal all the details of their agreement with TransLink, despite claims by Canada Line Rapid Transit Inc. that it would lead to an increased risk of terrorism and cause financial harm.

Celia Francis, senior adjudicator for the Freedom of Information Office, said Canada Line Rapid Transit and InTransitBC did not provide sufficient evidence to “establish a reasonable expectation of harm flowing from disclosure.”

She ordered all information of the concession agreement be made available to lawyer Cameron Ward, who filed the FOI request, within the next 30 days. He argued the project involves a “massive amount of public funds” and details should be available to the public.

Ward represents former Cambie merchant Susan Heyes, who successfully sued TransLink, InTransitBC and Canada Line Rapid Transit for $600,000 in damages after losing business as a result of tunnel construction along Cambie Street.

Ward could not be reached Monday.

According to Francis’s report, InTransitBC claimed it withheld some some information from the agreement because it could prejudice its competitive interests, while Canada Line Rapid Transit argued disclosure could open Canada up to a terrorist attack in light of attacks in London and Madrid.

Canada Line’s case said disclosure of the information it withheld could “reasonably be expected to harm the security of the line and ultimately the physical safety of passengers, law enforcement personnel and others.”

But while Francis agreed “the possibility of a terrorist attack on public works carries with it the threat of serious and significant harm to public safety,” she said there was no evidence of how a terrorist would exploit the information.

The information being withheld included the level of police and communications personnel, the operation of the CCTV system, the tunnel-ventilation system and the communications systems and equipment.

Canada Line also refused to release a diagram titled Basic Layout of the Control Room, a diagram of the “Proposed Cross-Section of One Bored Tunnel under False Creek and Downtown Vancouver” and more than 400 pages of drawings.

“Canada Line did not provide evidence that is detailed and convincing enough to establish specific circumstances for the harm it argued could reasonably be expected to flow from disclosure of the information in question,” she wrote.

She also dismissed Canada Line’s arguments that releasing the information would harm conduct of aboriginal relations, saying they were “vague, speculative and hypothetical” and that she was not persuaded of the threat of financial or economic harm.

InTransit BC, she said, also failed to provide sufficient evidence to support its arguments on the reasonable expectation of “significant” harm to its own competitive or negotiating position or that of others.

TransLink itself did not oppose releasing the agreement details.

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