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Probe urged of computer system mess

Aug 10 2012

Privacy watchdogs and service agencies are calling for a public inquiry into the B.C. government's flawed new computer system.

The coalition released a letter to Premier Christy Clark criticizing the "disastrous" launch of the province's $182-million Integrated Case Management system.

"We believe that the broader focus of a public inquiry is necessary to understand what brought us to this point, and to prevent the recurrence of this type of fiasco in future," the letter says.

Signatories include the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, the B.C. Society of Transitional Houses, the B.C.

Coalition of People with Disabilities and Positive Living B.C.

"There's just so much wrong with this from so many different angles," said Vincent Gogolek, executive director of the privacy association. "It's not just a few technical glitches. The system doesn't work."

B.C.'s children's watchdog Mary Ellen TurpelLafond warned last month that the "flawed" software was putting vulnerable children at risk. She highlighted cases of elusive safety alerts and missing information in addition to a number of privacy breaches.

Children and Family Development Minister Mary McNeil was unavailable Thursday to answer questions about the call for a public inquiry.

But she earlier promised to add 150 auxiliary staff at a cost of $12 million to help with the increased workload created by the computer system.

The government also said it would hire an independent expert to assess the system, which was designed to link a wide range of social programs across numerous ministries. It began rolling out on April 1.

The Association of Service Providers for Employability and Career Training (ASPECT), which represents 175 employment agencies, said its members are frustrated by the length of time it takes to enter information into the system while clients wait for service.

"It's obtuse," said Norma Strachan, chief executive officer and one of the letter's signatories. "It's absolutely almost impenetrable sometimes.

"People are leaving the sector. We've had people that have been taken to hospital by ambulance because of the stress level associated with getting information into the ICM.

"It's a really micro-managing database. For somebody even to get a bus ticket takes something like 40 clicks on the computer.

It takes more time than the agency is actually paid for."

At the same time, the contractors, who work with the unemployed, new immigrants, young people, the disabled and those on welfare, are under increasing pressure to enter more information into the system before they can get paid by the government, Strachan said. "It's a stressful situation for them to be in."

lkines@timescolonist.com

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