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More than $124,000 of taxpayers' money spent on secrecy fight

Jan 21 2012

The B.C. government has already spent more than $124,000 in legal fees fighting to keep secret parts of a contract it signed with IBM.

The real cost to taxpayers, though, is likely double that amount and set to rise further as the case goes to B.C. Supreme Court.

Legal fees between 2006 and October 2011 were $124,522.48, but that does not include ministry staff time or the time of in-house government lawyers.

The province's privacy commissioner ordered the government to release a full copy of the 535-page contract in 2010, after an appeal from the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. The IBM Workplace Services contract provides technology support to civil servants.

The government refused, saying the IBM contract, worth $300 million, contained sensitive information that could threaten government security. It requested a judicial review in B.C. Supreme Court, which should take place in the first week of March.

"It's just such a waste of time and money and resources," said Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which received the legal fee information through a Freedom of Information request.

"Don't throw good money after bad, lets disclose it and get on with it."

The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association first asked for a copy of the deal in 2004, and has been fighting appeals and legal battles ever since. The association is a non-profit society established in 1991 for the purpose of advancing freedom of information, open and accountable government, and privacy rights in Canada.

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, which must now defend its ruling against the government in court, has likely spent an equal amount in legal fees since 2004 an office spokesman said.

That means the true bill to taxpayers is almost $250,000 with the issue still unresolved.

"I think in this case, we believe so strongly that we need to protect network security and individual people's personal privacy," said Labour, Citizens' Services and Open Government Minister Margaret MacDiarmid.

The government has released more than 90 per cent of the contract but is holding back information related to things like network server names and addresses that could make government operations vulnerable to hackers, said MacDiarmid.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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