Alberta government, federal Public Safety Minister among nominees for CAJ
Secrecy Award

OTTAWA, May 19 /CNW/ - They hoarded information about deadly hospital infections, racial profiling and the gun registry.

Now, they are among the nominees for the Canadian Association of Journalists 10th annual Code of Silence Award, dishonouring the most secretive government, department or agency in Canada.

"It's a bumper crop of concealment this year," said CAJ President Mary Agnes Welch. "Governments wilfully withheld information and stymied the public's right to information about some very serious issues."

The winner will be announced at the CAJ's annual awards gala during its national conference in Montreal later this month. The nominees are:

    
    -   The office of Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, which sat on an
        RCMP report backing the long-gun registry for almost two months in
        the fall of 2009, not releasing the document until two days after a
        contentious vote in Parliament on a backbencher's private member's
        bill to kill the registry. The bill passed second reading when 12 NDP
        and eight Liberal MPs, under political pressure in their ridings,
        backed ending the registry.

    -   The Vancouver Island Health Authority, for delaying the release of
        records on the spread of disease in a Nanaimo hospital in the summer
        of 2008 that killed three people and eventually infected more than
        90 others. The health authority received an interim report in
        October, 2008, from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control on the
        outbreak of Clostridium difficile at Nanaimo Regional General
        Hospital, and a final report in January, 2009, but refused to
        publicly release the information, despite repeated media requests,
        until June of 2009, when VIHA was also ready to announce its
        response. The investigation's report included finding a lack of
        hand-washing facilities and overcrowding at the aging facility, which
        contributed to the spread of infection.

    -   The Alberta government, for chronic delays in responding to FOI
        requests. In January, Alberta's top court ruled the province's
        Information and Privacy Commissioner cannot take "routine
        extensions" in privacy cases, a finding which also covers complaints
        under health and access to information laws, and must justify such
        extensions on a case by case basis. Critics argued the frequent
        delays were caused by the government's deliberate underfunding to
        information and privacy offices.

    -   The Toronto Police, for the seven-year legal fight waged with the
        Toronto Star before providing data on arrests and details of
        incidents in which police stopped and documented encounters with
        citizens without laying charges. The data, which the police fought
        the release of right up to the province's highest court, formed the
        basis of a ground breaking 2009 series in the Star called
        Race Matters. The Star is still appealing the $12,000 in programming
        fees charged by the police after the data was ordered released.

    -   The Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, for
        taking two-and-a-half years to comply with a 2006 freedom of
        information request for inspection findings and student complaints
        related to the province's 400 private career colleges. A second FOI
        filing showed the delay occurred after the initial request had been
        flagged as a media request, labelled "contentious," and the sought-
        after records routed through an assistant deputy minister's office
        for review. Ironically, the file's final internal recommendation was
        to "fulfill the request as soon as possible," for fear being
        ultimately ordered by the Information Commissioner to release the
        documents could become part of the story. Which is exactly what
        happened.
    

The 2010 Code of Silence Award will be handed out at the CAJ's gala award ceremony on Saturday, May 29 at the Grand Plaza Hotel in Montreal, the highlight of the CAJ's annual training conference.

Registration for the conference is still open. Visit caj.ca to see the full schedule or to register.

The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization with more than 900 members across Canada. The CAJ's primary role is to provide public-interest advocacy and quality professional development for its members.

SOURCE Canadian Association of Journalists

For further information: For further information: visit www.caj.ca Or call: Mary Agnes Welch, CAJ President, Work: (204) 697-7590 or Cell: (204) 470-8862; John Dickins, CAJ Executive Director, Cell: (613) 868-5442


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