Canada's Police among Worst Offenders for Freedom of Information Compliance



    Audit Finds Huge Disparities in Access to Basic Information

    OTTAWA, Jan. 10 /CNW Telbec/ - Many Canadian police forces obstinately
refuse to report on taser stun gun usage, despite an apology from RCMP
Commissioner William Elliott last year for excessive secrecy, and mounting
public controversy surrounding the deaths of taser victims.
    This is among the findings of a new audit by the Canadian Newspaper
Association (CNA) of freedom of information regimes across Canada, released
today. The annual exercise tests how readily officials disclose information
that should be publicly available on request.
    As in previous years, the CNA's 2008 audit finds that officials across
Canada are disturbingly inconsistent in their compliance with laws that
underwrite the public's right to know.
    "Whether it be details of expenditures by municipalities, or federal
policies on talking to the media, what you get and how fast you get it depends
on where you are making the request," said Fred Vallance-Jones, the University
of King's College journalism professor who conducted the audit in
collaboration with the CNA.
    "Information freely available from some government agencies was denied by
others. And when it wasn't denied, prohibitive fee estimates often took it out
of the reach of all but the wealthiest requesters," he said.
    Police reporting on taser usage is a striking example. Officers who use
tasers are required to file use-of-force reports, however some police forces
demanded exorbitant fees for this information. Winnipeg demanded $4,500, the
highest in Canada.
    Regina, Saskatoon and Saint John police refused to provide any records,
alleging that provincial freedom of information law didn't apply to them. On
the other hand, Halifax, Fredericton, Calgary and Victoria police, and the
Codiac RCMP released records at no cost. Hamilton Police claimed in an e-mail
that Ontario law prohibited them from releasing use-of-force reports.
    "The police must be held to account just like government or anyone who
exercises power on the public's behalf," said David Gollob, CNA's Senior VP of
Policy and Communications. "Canadians depend on newspapers to keep them
informed and keep the system accountable. This is our watchdog mandate. But we
can't do the job properly when authorities block information, or make it
difficult or prohibitively costly to obtain."
    The audit grades institutions based on the speed and completeness of
disclosure. Grades range widely from an A- for the City of Saskatoon and
Province of Saskatchewan, to outright failures in Moncton, Saint John and
Quebec City. The CBC, with a D, received the worst grade of any of the federal
institutions tested.

    A highlights package and national report card follow. The complete study
is available on www.cna-acj.ca.

    
    Backgrounder/Highlights:

    The CNA national FOI audit is a collaborative project of the CNA with the
School of Journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax. King's
professor Fred Vallance-Jones led the audit team. The audit ran from late
August to mid-November.
    Two hundred and nineteen requests were mailed to 22 municipal governments
and their police services, 10 provinces and Yukon, and 11 federal departments
and crown corporations. At each level of government there were five identical
requests. To prevent institutions from treating audit requests differently
from other requests, the requests were filed by a student acting as an
ordinary member of the public. Institutions did not know they were being
audited.

    Highlights

    - The City of Windsor proposed to charge more than $103,000 for
      information on city payments that several municipalities provided at no
      cost. It said extensive manual searches would be necessary to find out
      why payments had been made. If some of the information was left out,
      the price dropped to $1,570;

    - The City of Montreal twice sent back the same request for payment
      information. It first asked for a time period for the request, then
      after that was provided, refused to process the request on the basis it
      would mean creating a record;

    - The CBC was the least transparent of the federal agencies tested. It
      asked for six-month time extension to release a list of its top
      employees, their classifications and their salary ranges. Most federal
      agencies provided the same information within a month. The CBC
      acknowledged but didn't answer a request for its policy on employees
      speaking to the media;

    - The City of Vancouver asked for more than $2,500 to provide a priority
      list of road repairs for the current year. Many other municipalities
      provided the information at no cost.


    Grades/Report Card

    The audit graded institutions on the speed and completeness of their
responses, and on whether they imposed fees or time extensions. The grades
were based on a point system, and then converted to a letter based on an
institution's aggregate score. The complete list of grades follows.

    --------------------------------------------
    Level        Institution             Grade
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Saskatoon, Sask.        A-
    --------------------------------------------
    Provincial   Saskatchewan            A-
    --------------------------------------------
    Federal      Public Works            B+
    --------------------------------------------
    Provincial   Manitoba                B+
    --------------------------------------------
    Provincial   Alberta                 B+
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Regina, Sask.           B+
    --------------------------------------------
    Federal      Canada Revenue Agency   B
    --------------------------------------------
    Provincial   P.E.I.                  B
    --------------------------------------------
    Federal      VIA Rail                B
    --------------------------------------------
    Federal      Environment Canada      B
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    St. John's, NF          B
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Calgary, Alta.          B-
    --------------------------------------------
    Federal      Finance                 B-
    --------------------------------------------
    Provincial   Nova Scotia             B-
    --------------------------------------------
    Federal      Health Canada           B-
    --------------------------------------------
    Federal      Privy Council Office    B-
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Fredericton, N.B.(*)(*)     B-
    --------------------------------------------
    Federal      National Defence        C+
    --------------------------------------------
    Provincial   Yukon                   C+
    --------------------------------------------
    Provincial   New Brunswick           C+
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Montreal, Que.          C+
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Halifax, N.S.           C+
    --------------------------------------------
    Provincial   Nfld                    C+
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Edmonton, Alta.         C+
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Toronto, Ont.           C
    --------------------------------------------
    Provincial   Quebec                  C
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Vancouver, B.C.         C
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Winnipeg, Man.          C
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Hamilton, Ont.          C
    --------------------------------------------
    Federal      Canada Post             C-
    --------------------------------------------
    Provincial   B.C.                    C-
    --------------------------------------------
    Federal      Transport Canada        C-
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Victoria, B.C.          C-
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Cape Breton, N.S.       C-
    --------------------------------------------
    Provincial   Ontario                 C-
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Ottawa, Ont.            D+
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Corner Brook, NF        D+
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Brandon, Man.           D+
    --------------------------------------------
    Federal      CBC                     D
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Windsor, Ont.           D
    --------------------------------------------
    Federal      Codiac RCMP             D
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Thunder Bay, Ont.       D-
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Moncton, N.B.           F
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Saint John, N.B.        F
    --------------------------------------------
    Municipal    Quebec City, Que.       F
    --------------------------------------------

    (*)(*)The grade for Fredericton is an anomaly. The City of Fredericton
      actually released no information. But because it made its decision
      immediately, the grading system awarded it points for speed of
      response. The Fredericton Police did release reports on Taser use,
      however, and these contributed to the B- grade.
    

    About the Canadian Newspaper Association
    ----------------------------------------

    The Canadian Newspaper Association is the voice of Canada's daily
newspaper industry. We promote the positive reputation of newspapers as an
essential medium that benefits all Canadians, and as an effective vehicle for
advertisers. The CNA is a vigorous champion of journalistic freedom and
democratic reform and is a valued source of industry information, trends and
best practices.




For further information:

For further information: or interviews, contact David Gollob, Canadian
Newspaper Association, (613) 301-6162, dgollob@cna-acj.ca

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