Canadian Food Inspection Agency Wins CAJ Secrecy Award

    VANCOUVER, May 23 /CNW/ - The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has won the
Canadian Association of Journalists' Code of Silence Award for 2008 for its
dizzying efforts to stop the public from learning details of fatal failures in
food safety.
    "The judges were sick with awe at the intestinal fortitude the Canadian
Food Inspection Agency gatekeepers have shown," said CAJ President Mary Agnes
Welch. "It was clear that the CFIA's guard dogs found something they can
really sink their teeth into."
    The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has delayed and extended, ad nauseam,
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 ignominious Code of Silence Award, handed out Saturday night at the
CAJ's investigative journalism awards banquet, dishonours the country's most
secretive government, department or agency.
    Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office, which won the award last year,
earned an honourable mention this year for continuing to muzzle civil servants
and cabinet ministers, blackballing reporters who pose tough questions and
building a pervasive spin machine designed to police and staunch the flow of
    "The judges had to make a gut-wrenching decision but are confident that
Prime Minister Harper and his secrecy apparatus will mount a bolder effort for
next year," Welch said. "We wish him the worst of luck in his endeavours."
    The award was accepted by CAJ director Fred Vallance-Jones on behalf of
the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which sent no one to collect it.
    The other nominees for the CAJ Code of Silence Award were:

    -   Fort Erie's Economic Development and Tourism Corporation for spending
        nearly $750,000 in taxpayers' money yearly with no open meetings or

    -   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 RCMP, its partner organization the Canadian Police Research
        Centre and police forces across Canada that refuse to divulge
        information about Taser use.

    -   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.

    -   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

    -   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. 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.

    The CAJ is 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 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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