Harper, Yukon and Alberta governments among the nominees for the Canadian Association of Journalists' Code of Silence Award



    OTTAWA, May 19 /CNW/ - For the second year in a row, Prime Minister
Stephen Harper and his spin machine leads the nominations for the Canadian
Association of Journalists' Code of Silence Award.
    "The Prime Minister's remarkably secretive communications apparatus was
the hands-down winner in 2008 and journalists from all over the country have
nominated him again this year," said CAJ President Mary Agnes Welch. "But he's
got some stiff competition - governments from Alberta to the small town of
Fort Erie, Ont. are denying the public's right to know in the same old
undemocratic ways."
    The prestigious Code of Silence award recognizes the most secretive
government, department or agency in Canada. The winner will be announced
Saturday at the CAJ's annual awards gala. The nominees are:

    
    -   Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government for muzzling civil
        servants and cabinet ministers, blackballing reporters who pose tough
        questions and building a huge spin machine designed to staunch the
        flow of information. This year, the apparatus has gained power.
        Reporters with legitimate questions get canned e-mail answers from
        public relations staff with no chance of a live interview with a real
        expert. And reporters are being excluded from events they used to
        cover.

    -   Fort Erie's Economic Development and Tourism Corporation for spending
        nearly $750,000 in taxpayers' money yearly with no open meetings or
        transparency. The corporation, using $2 million in taxpayers' money,
        recently put in a bid to buy a money-losing local racetrack, but
        public information on the deal has been scant. Even certain town
        councillors are not given access to information about finances and
        policies, even though the corporation is an arms-length town agency.

    -   Canada's human rights commissions, federal and provincial, for their
        efforts to censor speech that merely "offends." Given enormous powers
        by the state, even to issue gag orders for life, human rights
        commissions and tribunals are not bound to give an accused the same
        rights they'd get in a court of law. The accuser has their case paid
        for by the state, while the defendant must pay out of pocket, even
        when the charges are absurd.

    -   The RCMP, its partner organization the Canadian Police Research
        Centre and police forces across Canada that refuse to divulge
        information about Taser use. Municipal police forces have frequently
        refused to release information about Taser use, and the RCMP has been
        uncommonly secretive since the death of Polish immigrant
        Robert Dziekanski. Calls to the RCMP are vetted through the
        communications office in Ottawa, which routinely ignores requests for
        information, refuses to release documents that ought to be public and
        forces journalists through lengthy battles to gain access to data and
        reports on Taser safety.

    -   The Yukon government, which is staunchly refusing to disclose the
        salaries of top civil servants even though nearly every other
        province does so as a matter of routine. The Yukon News is embroiled
        in a lengthy hearing on the matter, and the province's Access to
        Information Commissioner is currently conducting an inquiry.

    -   Human Resources and Skills Development Canada for charging the
        Toronto Star $6,500 for data on labour market opinions, the
        government approvals needed before an employer can hire foreign
        workers. Ottawa eventually released some information, but the names
        of all employers were blacked out.

    -   Alberta's Ministry of Children and Youth Services for failing to
        provide journalists and the opposition with access to quarterly
        reports of the Child and Youth Advocate. The reports detail specific
        cases of child abuse and contain recommendations to improve the
        struggling child welfare system. But the Alberta government refuses
        to release them. Instead, the province released three years of
        backlogged annual reports all at once last year, reports that one
        journalist called "thin gruel". Accessing the quarterly reports
        requires a slow, expensive freedom of information request.

    -   The Ontario government for waging a four year battle to keep secret
        its spending on outside lawyers and consultants in civil corruption
        cases. The Toronto Star first made an access request in March, 2004
        and finally received documents showing Ontario spent $23.4 million
        including $12.1 million on one legal firm. Lawyers described the
        spending as outrageous and said it showed a gross lack of oversight
        in litigation of a civil case where potential awards should still
        outweigh costs regardless of the public interest.

    -   The Canadian Food Inspection Agency for dramatic delays and
        extensions on requests related to the listeria outbreak that killed
        22 Canadians and triggered hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of
        illnesses. Requests filed for inspections records on the Toronto-area
        Maple Leaf plant at the centre of the outbreak took nine months to
        produce, and communication records with the company are still
        embroiled in delays. For one of the biggest public health issues to
        face Canada in recent years, details behind the cause of the
        outbreak, the apparent delay in warning Canadians and the agency's
        handling of the aftermath remain filled with unanswered questions.
    

    The 2009 Code of Silence Award will be handed out at the CAJ's gala award
ceremony Saturday, May 23 at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver, the highlight of the
CAJ's annual training conference.
    Registration of the conference is still open! New this year - reduced
fees for unemployed journalists. Visit caj.ca to see the full schedule at to
register!

    The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization
with more than 1,300 members across Canada. The CAJ's primary role is to
provide public-interest advocacy and quality professional development for its
members.




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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