Toronto Police win CAJ secrecy award

MONTREAL, May 29 /CNW/ - The Toronto Police Service has won the Canadian Association of Journalists' 10th annual Code of Silence award, given annually to the most secretive government agency in Canada.

"The finalists this year were all dedicated to stifling the public's right to know, but the Toronto police richly deserve this dishonour for the sheer stamina they exhibited in trying to stymie the release of information of clear public interest," said CAJ President Mary Agnes Welch.

The CAJ's judges were appalled by the Toronto Police Service's tenacious refusal to release to the Toronto Star data on arrests and details of incidents in which police stopped and documented encounters with citizens without laying charges. The police waged a seven-year legal battle with the Toronto Star, fighting the release of the information right up to Ontario's highest court, which ultimately ruled for the Star.

The data formed the basis of a groundbreaking 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 winner was announced at the CAJ's annual awards gala during its national conference in Montreal Saturday night.

The other nominees were:

* 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 investigations 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 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.

Last year, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency won the Code of Silence Award for its dizzying efforts to stop the public from learning details of fatal failures in food safety.

SOURCE Canadian Association of Journalists

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


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