The Shawnigan Lake Watershed Watch group is challenging government’s refusal to grant them “public interest” standing for the purposes of obtaining Freedom of Information documents without charge. The group seeks government documents regarding a proposal to sell Crown forest land to allow for massive suburban development (over 4000 housing units and a mall and golf course).
However, government has refused to waive search and copying fees, claiming that although the issue may be important to the 8500 people who draw their drinking water from Shawnigan Lake, that the population of the area is too small a portion of the total population of BC to constitute the “public interest”.
ELC Student Karla Point is representing the Watershed group, and has appealed the government’s decision. In her appeal submissions, Karla cited a case where the Commissioner ruled that 40 people drawing drinking water from a source was sufficient to constitute the “public” for the purposes of determining the public interest.
The family of the client, Mary Desmond, has lived near Shawnigan Lake for well over 100 years. Karla Point is a leader of the Hesquiaht First Nation, and is completing her second year at UVic Faculty of Law. Karla has expressed her respect for Mary’s efforts to “protect her own territory”.
Karla’s appeal has drawn extensive press coverage, both on Vancouver Island and Vancouver. It has been featured in a Vancouver Sun editorial calling on government to reform the way it deals with freedom of information requests.
This summer the ELC is working on a broader challenge to the way that government is dealing with Freedom of Information requests from environmental groups across the Province.
- Shawnigan Lake Watershed Watch Submissions (.pdf, 93kb)
- Shawnigan Lake Watershed Watch Reply (.pdf, 28kb)
Other Press Coverage:
- May 31, 2005 – Vancouver Sun Editorial
- May 29, 2005 – Times Colonist
- May 28, 2005 – Vancouver Sun