A B.C. Supreme Court judge has sided with IndigiNews in a case involving birth alert records held by the province’s Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD).
In a decision released Tuesday, Justice Nitya Iyer ruled that the MCFD must disclose records that it was trying to keep under wraps to the privacy commissioner’s office for review.
This case pits the public’s right to access information against the ministry’s right to private communication with their lawyer — also known as solicitor-client privilege. It has relevance for hundreds of parents who were subjected to birth alerts before the practice was banned in 2019. As previously reported by IndigiNews, the practice has disproportionately impacted Indigenous families in “B.C.”
The decision could also inform how provincial privacy law is interpreted in future cases.
And although, as of yet, there is no requirement for the MCFD to make the redacted records public, this decision brings full disclosure a step closer.
“To have a win is very uplifting,” says IndigiNews reporter Anna McKenzie, who’s been investigating birth alerts for several years.
“As a mom, I still can’t wrap my head around the practice of birth alerts, and I truly believe in seeking justice for families who may have had their little ones apprehended without any answers or justice.”
The IndigiNews team attended a two-day hearing on the matter in June, represented by our lawyer David Sutherland who made arguments along with representatives for the other two parties involved in the dispute: B.C.’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) and the MCFD.
How did this case end up in B.C. Supreme Court?
The documents at the heart of this case were acquired by IndigiNews through a freedom of information request. They revealed a government memo calling birth alerts “illegal and unconstitutional” four months before the practice was formally stopped, as previously reported — but other sections of those documents were redacted.
The reason offered for the redactions was solicitor-client privilege, which is an exception to full disclosure under provincial privacy law.
When IndigiNews received these incomplete records in 2020, we asked the OIPC to review them.
In its capacity as an oversight body, the OIPC ordered the MCFD to show them an unredacted copy of the records, so it could determine whether the information is in the public interest. But the ministry refused to share the unredacted records with the OIPC.
The ministry argued that it couldn’t share any more without disclosing legal advice, and it took the position that public interest cannot override solicitor-client privilege.
The ministry then petitioned the B.C. Supreme Court for a judicial review. In other words, it asked the court to examine the OIPC’s order and consider tossing it out.
The court’s decision
In June, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Iyer heard arguments from the MCFD, the OIPC and IndigiNews.
Her task, as she described it, was to decide whether section 25 of B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) compels “disclosure of information protected by solicitor-client privilege.”
Section 25 is the public interest override. It requires “the head of a public body” to disclose without delay any information “about a risk of significant harm to the environment or to the health or safety of the public or a group of people” or any information “which is, for any other reason, clearly in the public interest.”
It adds that information in the public interest must be disclosed “despite any other provision of this Act”.
Lawyers for MCFD argued that the language in FIPPA’s section 25 is not “sufficiently clear, explicit and unequivocal” enough to override solicitor-client privilege — which is protected under section 14 of the Act.
But Iyer wasn’t persuaded by the MCFD’s argument.
“There is no dispute that solicitor-client privilege is fundamental and nearly absolute,” she wrote in her decision released on July 11.
“While the MCFD is correct that an exception to solicitor-client privilege must be clear, explicit and unequivocal, the words of s. 25(2) satisfy that requirement,” she wrote. “Where s. 25 requires disclosure, all disclosure exceptions, including the solicitor-client privilege in s. 14, must give way.”
Iyer further concluded that B.C.’s privacy commissioner — or one of the adjudicator’s acting on his behalf — has the power to order a public body to produce records protected by solicitor-client privilege.
And if the MCFD doesn’t comply with the records order, the OIPC can apply to the B.C. Supreme Court to enforce it, she added.
According to IndigiNews’ lawyer, the ministry has 30 days to appeal Iyer’s decision.
An ‘opportunity to shape’ section 25
Justice Iyer pointed out that her decision “in no way foreshadows the outcome” of the OIPC’s review of IndigiNews’ section 25 request.
In other words, just because she found that the MCFD must share the unredacted records with the OIPC, it doesn’t mean the OIPC will in turn require MCFD to share them with IndigiNews — and by extension, the public.
The OIPC could find that the records don’t meet the public interest threshold.
Since 1995, the OIPC has issued more than 100 orders addressing section 25 and IndigiNews couldn’t find any examples where the adjudicator made an order for information to be released under this section. IndigiNews tried to confirm this with the OIPC and was told by a spokesperson via email that the office isn’t able to disclose information about specific files, as per section 47 of FIPPA.
But according to a 2013 report by BC’s then-privacy-commissioner, “there has not been a single instance where my office has ordered a public body to disclose information under this section” despite the fact that “many applicants seeking access to records frequently cite the section.”
“This is not surprising,” she added, given that disclosure under section 25 must be “both in the public interest and urgent.” She recommended the urgency requirement be dropped.
Spencer Izen is a legal researcher with the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA), a non-profit society.
“If [section 25 is] not working everytime someone tries it, it probably isn’t working,” he says, adding that this case marks “a real opportunity to shape how we use [section 25] going forward.”
Sometimes people treat section 25 “as a bit of a dart,” he says. “They just throw it at a board as a last attempt to see if they can get a redaction removed.”
“This strikes me as a case that has a lot more intention behind the use of section 25,” he says. “There’s this trifecta between the content, section 25 and section 14 that is at issue here that makes this a very interesting case to pay attention to.”
For McKenzie and the team at IndigiNews, the decision offers hope.
“Justice Iyer looked at the facts of the case, ruling in our favour,” says McKenzie. “We are celebrating our collective efforts to hold the ministry to account.”
The post Judge orders MCFD to reveal redacted records in birth alerts case appeared first on IndigiNews.
SD67 career fair connects Indigenous students with professional mentors
During a career fair in “Penticton” last week, Indigenous secondary school students heard from 26 mentors working in different industries — giving the Youth an opportunity to learn about various professional pathways.
The event was the first-ever Indigenous Career Fair held by School District 67’s (SD67) Indigenous Parent Group, planned in collaboration with the district’s Indigenous Education Program and held at Princess Margaret Secondary School.
It aimed to bridge the gap between post-secondary aspirations and alternative career paths, and set Indigenous Youth up for success after high school.
The Youth learned about various industries from professionals including water technicians, Youth and family workers, teachers, artists and more.
Along with covering the event as a journalist on Nov. 16, I also represented my industry as a mentor, talking to the Youth in Grades 8 to 12 about my career as a freelance storyteller contributing to IndigiNews and Global Okanagan. I shared with them what it means to me to tell these impactful stories as a member of Penticton Indian Band (PIB).
Another of the mentors, Whitney Cardenas, is also a member of PIB and works for the nation’s fire department. She told me that before she became a firefighter, attended a similar career fair to explore different job paths.
Now, she is eager to encourage the next generation of Indigenous Youth who are trying to decide which career path to choose.
“I’m pretty proud of myself to be named as one of the Indigenous role models, and I’m excited to talk to the Youth and tell them why I do what I do,” said Cardenas.
“I’m here to help encourage them to know that there are options out there and how easy it is to get into these careers and how they can make a living.”
Students at SD67’s Indigenous Career Fair at Princess Margaret Secondary School on Nov 16. Photo by Athena Bonneau
As a mother of two young children, Cardenas shared her passion for building a sense of community, emphasizing the importance of involving youth in trades for real-world experience.
“I never saw myself in this position with the fire brigade but I love it. I feel it’s something that I’m going to continue doing for a long while,” said Cardenas.
Cardenas encouraged Youth who may be interested in the trades to “come as you are and experience it firsthand” — embodying the inclusive and supportive spirit at the heart of the Indigenous Career Fair.
Dustin Hyde, the District Principal of Indigenous Education and Equity for SD67, highlighted the importance of broad representation of Indigenous workers across different sectors at the event.
“There was a parent who said, ‘my daughter wants to study medicine’ and it would be wonderful if there was an Indigenous doctor here,” said Hyde, who is Métis.
“We plan to broaden our role models next year and the hope and the dream would be that we just continue to offer more opportunities.”
Christy Tiessen, a member of the Indigenous Parent Group and organizer of the Career Fair, said the group will continue to meet monthly to find different ways to encourage Indigenous youth to see themselves in different career paths aside from only the traditional university route.
“If one kid walked out of here tonight and says, ‘I know what I want to do, that’s what I’m going to do’ and now they have a passion to move forward — that’s the goal,” said Tiessen.
The post SD67 career fair connects Indigenous students with professional mentors appeared first on IndigiNews.
For 18-year-old syilx basketball star, sports and mental health intersect
Just down the road from where sk’ik’aycin Peter Waardenburg Jr. grew up is one of his favourite safe spaces — the Westbank First Nation’s (WFN) basketball court.
The sport is more than just a means of keeping active or staying connected with his community — it’s his go-to coping mechanism to help navigate whatever challenges may present themselves.
So whenever he needs to clear his mind and ground himself, the 18-year-old will head to outdoor facility in syilx homelands and spend time shooting hoops.
“Whenever I feel down or need to feel motivated, I’ll come out,” says Waardenburg Jr., who is a member of Lower Similkameen Indian Band.
“It allows me to get away from whatever I need, to create a space for myself.”
Waardenburg Jr. was raised by a community of basketball players. His family started Syilx Basketball long before he was born — some of his earliest memories are of him watching his older brother Treyton, his older cousins and his dad play.
In addition to Treyton, his favourites included local Syilx Basketball league legends Jesse Vissia and Skye Terbasket, with his mom even gifting him a poster of the latter for Christmas one year.
“I always liked to watch and analyze more than I liked to play when I was younger. I was a little shy,” he recalled.
But Waardenburg Jr. was playing ball by the time he was five years old. Throughout his 13-year career, he’s generally played the point guard position, sometimes switching to shooting guard if needed.
At one point, he also played competitive baseball, where his time as a pitcher taught him patience and how to keep himself calm.
“That helped me later on with basketball: being a point guard and calm on the floor, kind of leading,” he said.
Basketball has introduced him to a new world of different clubs, tournaments and communities throughout North America — he’s played with the Jr. Heat Boys Basketball Club, Okanagan Valley Elite, GW Hoops, the Similkameen Men’s team, and Syilx Basketball for both the Junior and regular All Native Basketball tournaments.
He’s also represented Team BC twice in the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) — first in 2017, where the team placed second, and this past spring, where he was the starting point guard for the team, who finished third.
In 2022, he was part of the Syilx Basketball team that won the All Native Youth Basketball Tournament, which also saw him earn the MVP award. He competed again in this year’s Junior All Native, where he was the top scorer and was named an all-star, helping his team place second.
“Basketball allowed me to stay connected, especially to culture. With the All Native and with the Junior All Native, it brings you towards different tribes and bands,” he said.
A special highlight in his career was when he played with his older brother and his younger brother on a Men’s Similkameen Basketball team that his dad coached.
“When you’re surrounded by friends and family, and they’re playing basketball, it just makes you realize how much you’re loved,” he said.
This past August, Waardenburg Jr. was named as one of three syilx Okanagan recent high school graduates to receive a Syilx Siya Bursary Award from the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA), for demonstrating “a willingness to dream big for themselves, their Nation, their community, and/or their family.”
Applicants for the bursary award were tasked with writing about overcoming a difficult moment in their lives. In his application, he wrote about losing his cousins to mental health challenges and how sports — basketball in particular — helped him cope.
“I definitely believe sports help with mental health. I’ve seen it help me through the roughest times,” said Waardenburg Jr., who graduated from Mount Boucherie Secondary School.
He said while opening up about loss was difficult, he has worked through many of the emotions involved with the grieving process.
“My two bros that I lost, they played a lot of basketball. I grew up playing with them,” he said.
Now, he is working his way through his first-year studies at Okanagan College’s business administration program. Waardenburg Jr. said he’s keen on promoting Indigenous sports more — he said he’d like to teach and coach other Indigenous Youth someday.
Speaking from his own experience, he encouraged those struggling with mental health to try and pick up a sport because you never know who you’ll meet that may help you down the road.
“It can also just make you realize that there’s more to life,” he said.
“Honestly, it could save someone.”
The post For 18-year-old syilx basketball star, sports and mental health intersect appeared first on IndigiNews.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc celebrates grand opening of on-reserve grocery store: ‘a source of pride’
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (TteS) is celebrating a new community-owned grocery store that’s bringing food options and employment opportunities to the reserve.
The grand opening for the new Sweláps Market is set to take place on Thursday at 11 a.m., and will include speeches and a ceremonial ribbon cutting. It will also feature week-long deals and prize draws, giveaways and food samples.
The Sweláps Market is located in the Chief Louis Centre, and had its soft opening on Oct. 19.
The market is owned by TteS but is open to everyone. The store displays signs in Secwepemctsín (Secwépemc language) including a welcoming of Weyt-kp above the front door.
The language also labels each department of the store such as q̓wlem (bakery) and ts̓i7 ell swewll (meat and fish).
On the market’s website, each department is listed with audio files to hear the proper pronunciation.
Sweláps translates to “bighorn sheep” and the logo represents the sheep’s horn among the mountains and North and South Thompson rivers.
The 22,000-square-foot grocery store incorporates culture into the architecture, including a Secwépemc weaving design on the ceiling and a wooden ladder outside which resembles the entrance of a pithouse.
After the ladder was carved on-site by Charles Dumont, the owner of Coyote Contracting and a TteS band member, and his son Ryder — a ceremony was held to bless the log as it was put into place.
General manager Kara Stokes spoke about the importance of having a market in the community, given that, before now, the closest grocery store was off-reserve and across the river.
The vision for a band-owned grocery store goes back ten years, Stokes recalled, with multiple locations explored before settling on the Chief Louis Centre.
Before the store’s opening, Kúkwpi7 Rosanne Casimir expressed high hopes for the store’s impact.
“This project will bring food closer to home, create employment, and further strengthen our economy,” she said in a community statement. “It will be a source of pride as leadership is fully implementing a community driven opportunity.”
Before opening, the public was kept up to date through updates and upcoming events listed on the market’s website.
A members-only job fair was held in September to give band members a chance to explore the job opportunities before opening it up to the public.
Between full-time and part-time job openings, the market employs a total of 65 people in management and frontline positions.
Stokes explained that the job openings are a helpful addition for TteS.
“That opens up the opportunity for a lot of people who live in the area to be able to work in the area,” she said.
Since the store opened to the public last month, Stokes said she has served customers of all ages and varying family sizes. The market is currently open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays.
“Everybody’s been coming in and shopping and it’s really amazing to see the support from the community to be able to provide this service,” she said.
The post Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc celebrates grand opening of on-reserve grocery store: ‘a source of pride’ appeared first on IndigiNews.
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