Thursday, May 11, 2006

Freedom of Information: Code of Silence 2006 Award Nominees

The Canadian Association of Journalists has released the list of nominees for its sixth annual Code of Silence Award recognizing the most secretive government agency in Canada.

2006 nominees include:

  • The Ontario Attorney General for maintaining the highest fees in the country for access to court records
  • The Federal Privy Council Office for consistently failing to meet response times to access to information requests
  • The Ontario Ministry of Health for repeated delays in providing access to information about how public money has been spent by a ministry agency called Smart Systems for Health

The winner will be announced at the association's national conference in Halifax, on May 13.

Among the past winners are:

  • Alberta Premier Ralph Klein's Conservative government, for denying access to public documents on the use of a government plane until after the 2004 provincial election
  • Health Canada, for denying meaningful access to a database of prescription drugs that could harm or even kill Canadians
  • the Nova Scotia government for its overall pattern of secrecy
  • the federal Department of Justice for giving itself the power to override the Access to Information Act
  • the Ontario Ministry of the Environment for withholding information about the Walkerton drinking water contamination scandal. 7 people died and thousands fell sick

On a related note, the Canadian Newspaper Association documented what it calls a culture of secrecy in a major 2005 freedom of information research project. Reporters from 45 member newspapers simultaneously visited municipal, provincial and federal government offices across Canada asking for access to information on basic everyday topics such as class size, police suspensions and restaurant inspections.

As the Ottawa Citizen reported in a May 28, 2005 front page article entitled "A 'culture of secrecy' blocks public access to information: Government data released in just one-third of cases, audit finds":

"Reporters found a confusing patchwork of policies across the country, ranging from poor disclosure in provinces such as Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, to a surprising 93-per-cent disclosure in Alberta. Overall, officials handed over records to just one in every three requests made in person. The rest remained locked in government filing cabinets as reporters were told they had to file time-consuming -- and often expensive -- formal requests under provincial or federal access laws."

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 4:00 pm

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