NRCan wins CAJ Code of Silence Award

OTTAWA, May 14 /CNW/ - When you've waited 13,000 years, what's another week?

That was the attitude of Natural Resources Canada when they barred an internationally-known Canadian researcher from speaking about his work on the breaking of a prehistoric ice-dam 130 centuries ago until vetted "media lines" could be approved by the minister's office.

Journalists in Canada facing deadlines had to interview British scientists lauding Scott Dallimore's groundbreaking study published last spring while federal bureaucrats fretted about the wider implications of an unscripted interview about an event that happened centuries before humans planted their first crops or built their first cities.

The debacle earned Natural Resources Canada the ignominious Canadian Association of Journalists' Code of Silence Award that shines an annoying light on the most clandestine government department.

"What could be so secret about a 13,000-year-old ice dam that merits muzzling a top Canadian scientist?" said CAJ President Mary Agnes Welch. "Some ice ages apparently haven't ended."

NRCan geologist Dallimore was the Canadian co-author of the study on the ice dam published in the journal Nature. 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.

The winner was announced at the CAJ's annual awards gala and national conference in Ottawa Saturday night. The other nominees were:

  • Alcool NB Liquor for refusing a request by CBC New Brunswick for a report on altering pension rules and flouting the word of the province's access to information commissioner.
  • The Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services for intransigent secrecy around daycare inspection records.
  • The Ontario Ministry of Government Services for secrecy around troubling civil servant Internet surfing habits.
  • The Ontario government for its proposal to undermine access to vital hospital information by adding a loophole that excludes documents related to quality of patient care from access to information rules.
  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his continued vise-grip on the public's right to know.

Last year's winner of the Code of Silence Award was the Toronto Police Service.

"Once again, there was no shortage of government departments stingy with information the public has a right to know," said Welch. "We salute NRCan for illustrating just how timeless the obsessive spin-doctoring can be."

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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