Official orders the release of contracts after appeals drag out FOI application for three years
By Agnieszka Krawczynski
Photo: A Stericycle truck is pictured at a Planned Parenthood facility in Denver, Col. (File photo)
After nearly three years of delays, The B.C. Catholic is a major step closer to learning details of a controversial deal to dispose of aborted babies at an Oregon waste-to-energy plant.
B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner has ruled in favour of The B.C. Catholic’s freedom of information request for details of the contract between B.C. health authorities and medical waste management company Stericycle.
The newspaper made the FOI request in July 2014 after revealing the remains of some aborted and miscarried children from B.C. were being trucked to a waste-to-energy plant in Oregon where they were burned as fuel.
In his story, writer Steve Weatherbe reported biomedical waste, including “human tissue, such as surgically removed cancerous tissue, amputated limbs, and fetal tissue,” was being incinerated at the waste-to-energy plant to generate electricity.
The B.C. government confirmed to Weatherbe that biomedical waste was being “disposed of through appropriate contracted providers,” to be transferred and incinerated in an Oregon facility.
Weatherbe identified Covanta Marion in Brooks, Ore., as the plant receiving B.C.’s biomedical waste and using it to power Marion County.
After a public outcry, the plant was temporarily shut down and spokespeople initially denied burning aborted fetuses, later promising not to continue the practice.
The local municipality was “outraged and disgusted that this material could be included in medical waste received at the facility,” said Janet Carlson of the Marion County Board of Commissioners. “We did not know this practice was occurring until today.”
The B.C. Catholic filed an FOI request in July 2014 asking for the contracts between B.C. health authorities and Stericycle, an international company with an office in Port Coquitlam that Covanta Marion confirmed brought them medical waste from B.C.
The documents include a 59-page contract about how human and animal biomedical waste from B.C. hospitals is disposed of.
Despite the B.C. government’s deadline of 30 days for responding to FOI requests, the Office of the information and Privacy Commissioner only ruled March 31 the contracts are to be available.
“I require the (Provincial Health Services Authority) to give the applicant access to the information sheet and the contract by May 16, 2017,” said adjudicator Celia Francis.
The Provincial Health Services Authority agreed at the outset the contracts should be made available under the FOI request. But, Stericycle and a third party, HealthPRO Procurement Services, which holds a contract between PHSA and Stericycle, refused.
Drawn-out FOI requests have become an issue for B.C. journalists. Newspapers Canada gave the B.C. government an F on its responses to FOI requests after an audit in 2015.
The government says it takes “up to 30 business days” to get a response to an FOI request, but this deadline “may be extended” depending on the amount of information requested or when third parties need to be consulted.