Canadian Association of Journalists - Code of Silence nominees

    OTTAWA, May 15 /CNW/ - The Canadian Association of Journalists is proud
to present this year's nominees for the not-so-coveted Code of Silence Award
recognizing the most secretive governments in Canada.
    "Keeping vital public information from the public's attention isn't
easy," said Paul Schneidereit, CAJ president. "It takes a deep and abiding
commitment to secrecy. This award celebrates that rare combination of
defensiveness, contempt, paranoia and skill required to hide public
information by undermining information laws, throwing walls up around
government-held data or denying the very existence of public records. This is
our begrudging tip of the hat to the very best."
    Finalists were chosen from a list of nominations submitted by journalists
and the public.

    The finalists are:

    1.  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. Even after
        complaints to the federal Information Commissioner, the department
        would only release a heavily excised version of a report to the Globe
        and Mail in which every reference to torture and abuse in Afghan
        prisons was blacked out. The federal Information Commissioner gave
        the Department of Foreign Affairs an "F" grade in his most recent
        annual report for failing to reply to 60 per cent of its access to
        information requests within the statutory deadlines, more than any
        other department audited last year.

    2.  The Immigration and Refugee Board for employing lengthy delays,
        misinformation, deceit and excessive fees to block Access to
        Information requests by journalist Roxana Olivera. In one case, the
        department claimed not to have any documents related to the granting
        of refugee status to Americans in Canada. Following a complaint to
        the Information Commissioner, the department confirmed it had
        conferred status upon four American citizens. The Information
        Commissioner also found "a serious deemed-refusal situation and lack
        of an up-to-date ATI support structure in the IRB's current policies,
        procedures, and technology."

    3.  The governments of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick for being
        the only remaining provinces in Canada that lack freedom of
        information legislation covering municipalities. As a result, the
        public in both provinces do not have the legally-backed right to know
        what municipalities are doing with their tax dollars.

    4.  Transport Canada for doggedly fighting for four years to keep basic
        aviation safety data out of the hands of journalists and the public.
        Following a formal request for the data by the Hamilton Spectator in
        2001, the department dug in its heels, at one point claiming that
        information about commercial aircraft incidents constituted the
        personal information of the pilots flying the planes. Only a legal
        challenge before the Federal Court finally persuaded Transport Canada
        to release the data last year. Transport Canada was also nominated
        for failing to complete a Canadian Press request from February of
        last year for the new minister's briefing book on current issues and
        upcoming events.

    5.  The Ontario government for refusing to give the provincial ombudsman
        power to investigate hospitals. Ontario is the only Canadian province
        where hospitals aren't subject to the scrutiny of an ombudsman.
        Despite repeated public demands for greater transparency around one
        of the most costly and essential public sectors in the country's most
        populous province, Ontario hospitals remain outside the scope of both
        provincial freedom of information legislation and independent

    The Code of Silence Award is handed out annually at the CAJ's gala award
banquet, which takes place during the association's annual spring conference.
This year, the conference is being held in Toronto May 24-27 at the Hilton
Hotel, 145 Richmond St. West, as part of the Global Investigative Journalism
    For the first time in the seven-year history of the award, a winner will
show up to collect the dubious prize at this year's conference. Ontario
Attorney General Michael Bryant, honoured with last year's Code of Silence
Award for imposing the highest fees in the country for public access to court
records, is scheduled to receive the plaque - featuring a large padlock
hanging from a chain - during his address to delegates on Thursday, May 24,
11:30 a.m. (Media vs. The Courts: A Town Hall with Ontario's Attorney General
Michael Bryant). Nominees can include municipal, provincial and federal
government departments as well as public agencies that work in the public
interest with public money.

    The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization
with more than 1,500 members across Canada. The CAJ's primary roles are public
interest advocacy work and quality professional development for journalists.

For further information:

For further information: Paul Schneidereit, CAJ president, (902)
426-1124; Robert Cribb, CAJ past-president, (416) 579-0289; John Dickins, CAJ
executive director, (613) 526-8061, Cell (613) 868-5442

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