OTTAWA, May 10 /CNW/ - They muzzled scientists, hoarded reports and
rewrote legislation to make it more difficult to get information.
The province of Ontario, New Brunswick's liquor control agency and the
Harper government are among this year's nominees for the Canadian
Association of Journalists' annual Code of Silence Award.
"For their commitment to secrecy, stonewalling and suppression, we
salute them," said CAJ President Mary Agnes Welch. "This award has been
around for more than a decade and this year's crop of dishonourable
nominees has proven that governments just aren't getting it.
Information belongs to citizens, not spin-doctors."
The winner will be announced at the CAJ's annual awards gala and
national conference in Ottawa this weekend.
The nominees are:
Alcool NB Liquor for refusing a request by CBC New Brunswick for a
report about altering the five-years-of-service requirement for pension
and severance-package eligibility. At issue was a soft landing for the
appointed head of Alcool NB Liquor, who was shuffled out by a new
provincial government and wasn't eligible for a pension. Or was he?
When the province's access to information commissioner recommended the
documents be released to the CBC, Alcool NB Liquor lawyered up and
refused. The report remains under wraps.
The Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services for intransigent
secrecy around daycare inspection records. The Toronto Star waged a
two-year battle under freedom of information legislation to obtain
daycare inspection records in 2007 and found troubling details of
negligence and mistreatment. The ministry vowed to make the records
public on a government website. After four years of foot-dragging, the
province started posting some inspection reports this month but not the
details of serious incidents such as injuries. In a matter of vital
public interest involving the most vulnerable people, the ministry
epitomizes a bureaucratic commitment to secrecy.
The Ontario Ministry of Government Services for secrecy around civil
servant Internet surfing habits. The Toronto Star fought for nearly a
year under freedom of information legislation to obtain monthly
provincial government reports on civil servant Internet surfing in
order to determine the governments' handling of improper surfing, the
scope of the problem and its impact on productivity. The ministry
rejected the request outright, refusing to release any portion of the
records. After the Star published a story on the secrecy around the
reports, reporter Robert Cribb obtained copies from a whistleblower
detailing a troubling monthly pattern of online abuses among the
province's 60,000 bureaucrats. An appeal of the ministry's denial is
The Ontario government for its proposal to undermine access to vital
hospital information. With hospitals set to fall under the province's
FOI legislation next year, the Liberal government is proposing a
loophole allowing hospitals to exclude from release documents related
to quality of patient care issues - the very documents of the highest
public interest. The remarkable commitment to secrecy in the hospital
sector became evident with the news that a prominent Toronto lawyer who
represents hospitals advised his clients - in writing on his website -
to consider "cleansing" records on patient care prior to the new FOI
legislation coming into place in January.
Natural Resources Canada for refusing to let one of its senior
scientists talk about research on the break-up of a prehistoric ice
dam. NRCan geologist Scott Dallimore was the Canadian co-author of the
study on the ice dam published last spring. He was told he had to get
"media lines" cleared by his minister's office before responding to
requests for interviews. It took a full week for Dallimore to get
ministerial approval, by which time the study had been released and his
international co-authors widely interviewed. The case was so egregious
it resonated with editorial writers and was held up internationally as
evidence of the Harper government's obsession with message control.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his continued vice-grip on the
public's right to know. Whether he is muzzling scientists, limiting
journalists to four questions a day on the campaign trail, refusing to
release information to MPs or undermining the access to information
process, the prime minister and his office are on the vanguard of
government secrecy in Canada. Harper has been a frequent nominee and
won the Code of Silence Award in 2008.
The 2011 Code of Silence Award will be handed out at the CAJ's gala
award ceremony on Saturday, May 14 at the Sheraton Hotel in Ottawa.
Registration of the conference is still open. Visit caj.ca to see the
full schedule or to register.
The CAJ is Canada's largest national professional organization for
journalists from all media, representing about 800 members across the
country. The CAJ's primary roles are to provide high-quality
professional development for its members and public-interest advocacy.
SOURCE Canadian Association of Journalists
For further information:
Mary Agnes Welch, CAJ President, Work: (204) 697-7590 or Cell: (204) 470-8862
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