TORONTO, Feb. 27, 2014 /CNW/ - Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
(CJFE) celebrates the principled stand taken yesterday by independent
MP Brent Rathgeber in killing his own private member's bill, C-461.
"The bill would have forced the CBC to disclose journalistic, creative
and programming information - including information that would
jeopardize the identity of its confidential sources - that no other
Canadian media outlet has to release," said Peter Jacobsen, Chair of
CJFE's Canadian Issues Committee. "The public broadcaster would
have seen its journalistic integrity compromised."
"Few MPs get the chance to pass their own bill in Parliament," CJFE
Board member Bob Carty noted. "Mr. Rathgeber gave up that opportunity
on the principle that it would do more harm than good. It was a good
day for democracy."
Just before the bill's Third Reading vote - expected to be passed by a
whipped vote of the Conservative back-benches - Rathgeber stood on a
point of order. Stating that the bill no longer resembled his original
law, he asked for C-461 to be dispensed. Speaker Andrew Scheer,
somewhat startled by the unusual move, dropped C-461 from the order
paper. The bill was killed.
Rathgeber gained notoriety last June when he quit the Conservative Party
over changes made by the Canadian government to his private member's
bill. The MP for Edmonton-St. Alberta originally wanted a bill that
would allow citizens to request the salaries of civil servants earning
more than about $188,000 yearly.
But the Canadian government, through its members on the Access to
Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee of the House, "gutted" the
bill (in Rathgeber's words) by raising the threshold for disclosure to
bureaucrats earning more than $444,000 a year. That level would apply
to only a very small number of crown corporation executives and senior
bureaucrats enjoying special bonuses.
There was also another side to C-461. It changed the way the CBC would
be treated under the Access to Information and Privacy Acts. CJFE was
instrumental in bringing the problems of this part of the bill to light
through its comprehensive analysis and parliamentary testimony.
CJFE argued that C-461's wording could force the CBC to disclose
journalistic, creative and programming information - including the
identity of its confidential sources - that no other Canadian media
outlet has to release. This onerous requirement would compromise the
public broadcaster's journalistic integrity and leave it crippled in a
competitive media marketplace.
Opposition members, the Information Commissioner of Canada, and
Rathgeber himself came to recognize that the act needed stronger
language to safeguard the CBC's duty to protect the identity of
confidential sources and many other aspects of its journalistic
activities. In committee hearings however, Conservative MPs voted down
all opposition proposals to correct those problems.
When C-461 came back to the House of Commons in November, Rathgeber took
the unusual step of making amendments to his own bill. He removed all
references to the CBC and reinstated lower salary disclosure
thresholds, which set up the final scene in the House yesterday.
"Although a handful of Conservatives broke ranks with their party, the
government defeated all of Rathgeber's amendments," Carty explained.
"It was a clear indication that the government's intent from the outset
was not to promote greater disclosure but to weaken the legal
protections for CBC journalism and programming."
At that point, parliamentary procedures allowed Rathgeber to withdraw
his sponsorship of his own bill, without which it could not be moved.
SOURCE: Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
For further information:
CJFE Board Member
Chair, CJFE Canadian Issues Committee