Harper, Ontario governments among nominees for CAJ Secrecy Award



    OTTAWA, May 14 /CNW/ - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office leads the
list of nominees for this year's Code of Silence Award, to be handed out by
the Canadian Association of Journalists later this month.
    According to several journalists, the Prime Minister's Office has muzzled
cabinet ministers and civil servants, particularly professional scientists. It
has forced Tory MPs to vet their comments to reporters through PMO. It has
cherry-picked questions from friendly journalists and blackballed reporters
who dared to ask questions out of turn. It has stalled and denied freedom of
information requests and, most recently, the PMO suspended a key access to
information database.
    "Killing the registry was the last straw for many reporters," said CAJ
President Mary Agnes Welch. "There's a broad and deliberate attempt on the
part of the Harper and his staff to limit the Canadians' right to know by
ducking reporters' questions, hoarding documents that ought to be public and
choreographing nearly every word uttered by civil servants and cabinet
ministers."
    The CAJ's Code of Silence Award honours the most secretive government or
department in Canada. The award will be handed out at the CAJ's annual
conference, May 23-25 in Edmonton. Last year, the winner was the Department of
Foreign Affairs for denying the existence of documents related to the
treatment of Afghan detainees that were requested under federal Access to
Information legislation.
    This year, the nominees are many:

    
    -   The BC government's climate change secretariat for refusing to reveal
        the credentials of the secretariat's head or the contents of
        stakeholder presentations and for holding closed-door meetings and
        symposiums. The secretariat has also stymied the release of its
        staffing and funding levels and quietly altered the province's
        freedom of information legislation to keep everything it discusses
        under an official cone of silence.

    -   The city of Rossland, BC. for forcing a city councillor to resort to
        freedom of information requests to get documents that should be
        public and holding closed-door meetings on issues of public
        importance.

    -   The Ontario government for the secretive tendering process involved
        in building nuclear power plants worth $26 billion. The request for
        proposals prohibits bidders from speaking to the media, and the site
        selection process squeezes out public input.

    -   Ontario's Ministry of Children and Youth Services for their two-year
        delay in releasing daycare records following a freedom of information
        request by the Toronto Star. The records revealed serious problems at
        several hundred of the 4,400 licensed daycares in the province. A day
        after the findings were published, the ministry vowed to make the
        records public and have since published them on a provincial website.

    -   Transport Canada for proposed draconian secrecy provisions in
        amendments to the Aeronautics Act which, if implemented, will see a
        veil of secrecy fall over all information reported by airlines about
        performance, safety violations, aviation safety problems and their
        resolution. None of this information will be available through the
        Access to Information Act even as de-personalized data.

    -   The town of Montague, PEI for using loopholes in the provincial
        Municipalities Act to hold pre-council meetings in the guise of
        committee of the whole sessions. No formal agenda is created, no
        minutes are kept, no report is presented to open council and
        reporters are not allowed to report on discussions that take place
        during the meetings, which are held a week before the monthly public
        meeting. When The Eastern Graphic attempted to cover a pre-council
        meeting, the town's solicitor threatened to seek a court injunction
        to stop the paper from printing details.
    

    The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization
with more than 1,500 members across Canada. The CAJ's primary role is to
provide public-interest advocacy and quality professional development for its
members.
    For more information or to register for the conference, visit www.caj.ca.





For further information:

For further information: Mary Agnes Welch, CAJ president, (204)
943-6575; John Dickins, CAJ executive director, (613) 526-8061, Cell: (613)
868-5442


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