Canadian Association of Journalists names Klein government as Canada’s “most secretive”

CALGARY – Premier Ralph Klein’s government has been named the “most secretive government body in Canada” by the country’s leading journalism association.

At its annual awards ceremony this past weekend, the Canadian Association of Journalism voted the Government of Alberta the winner of its Code of Silence Award, for its handling of a Freedom of Information request on the use of the government’s private jet.

The association said the Alberta government won out over other deserving candidates for withholding public records from the Edmonton Journal and opposition parties for six months, until two days after the provincial election.

“The Alberta government squeaked by with an astonishingly brazen performance by Premier Ralph Klein and his supporting cast, ” said Paul Schneidereit, president of the CAJ, in a new release.
“Ralph, the Code of Silence, has landed.”

The information that was eventually released was used by the Edmonton Journal in a four-part series which showed the air transportation service was used “like a private taxi by Klein and his ministers.”

A Freedom of Information commissioner has since ordered a public hearing into how the government processed the newspaper’s request.

The Code of Silence Award last year went to Health Canada for “denying meaningful access to a database of prescription drugs that could harm or even kill Canadians.”

Source: CBC News
May 16 2005

Canadian Association of Journalists nominates BC Government for annual ‘Code of Silence’ Award

The Canadian Association of Journalists has nominated the B.C. government for its annual awards recognizing “the most secretive government agency in Canada”.

The B.C. government was nominated for a series of actions that have undermined the province’s freedom of information laws.

The CAJ news release states, “After taking power in 2001, the Liberals steadily cut the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s budget. The government began tracking FOI requests from reporters, which now take significantly longer to process. More fees are charged and appeals can take more than a year. Critics also point to the Liberals’ increased use of outsourcing and public-private partnerships, which puts information of public interest beyond public scrutiny.”

News Release

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) 290-2903

Watchdog groups give BC government a failing grade on freedom of information

The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association was joined by four other public interest groups today as it released a report taking the BC government to task for failing to live up to its “New Era” promise to deliver open and accountable government.

The FIPA report is a preview of a major study to be released later in 2005, which will detail steps the BC government has taken to undermine the freedom of information act and re-assert strict government control over access to information.

Groups represented at the news conference included the BC Civil Liberties Association, Sierra Legal Defence Fund, Canadian Association of Journalists and Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation.

BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPP Act) was passed in 1992. In recent years, there has been a serious decline in the health of the FOI process, with increasing barriers to timely access to information for many citizens. These problems began with severe budget cuts to FOI administration under the previous administration, but have worsened under the current administration.

FIPA’s report states, “Over the past 10 years, a government culture has developed that employs every possible tactic to discourage and delay requests for information that it considers in any way “sensitive”. The culture of denial has employed a combination of budget and staff cuts, legislative and policy changes, government reorganization, delaying tactics, excessive use of the Act’s exceptions, and the extension of secrecy to additional government committees.”

“We are completely non-partisan,” stated FIPA executive director Darrell Evans, “but we feel it’s vital to get this information out during the election campaign so that the political parties will hopefully put their positions on freedom of information on the public record.”

“The Clark administration was a disaster for freedom of information, but sadly, the Current government has been even worse, and we’re extremely disappointed.” continued Evans.

“We were promised “the most open, accountable and democratic government in Canada,” said Devon Page, staff lawyer for Sierra Legal Defence Fund. “Instead, we have suffered through endless delays, lost documents, increased Cabinet secrecy, and political interference.”

A wide range of organizations have had a tough time getting information from the BC government. Sara MacIntyre, BC director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, could not attend the news conference, but issued the following statement:

“It is nearly impossible to hold a government accountable if it fails to disclose information on its procedures, audits or general operations. In the past four years, access to information has been slowly choked off by increasing search fees, expanded response times for requests, and the slashing of the Information Commissioner’s budget.

“It’s completely disingenuous to commit to the principles of transparency and accountability and then slash the resources of the Legislative officer who is charged with carrying out those principles. The next government in BC should re-affirm its commitment to transparency, restore funding to the Commissioner’s office and immediately cease the practice of tracking so-called “sensitive requests.”

“The business of government is the people’s business,” said Jason Gratl of BC Civil Liberties Association. “In our view, the government should not wait for a specific request to disclose information. They should generally volunteer to disclose records, especially statements of public policy, in which there is a public interest.”

To download FIPA’s preliminary report https://fipa.bc.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/library/Law_Reform_Activities/Campaign_to_Reform_BC’s_FOI_Act/BC_Govt_FOI_Performance_2005.doc:”Click Here”

CONTACTS:

Darrell Evans, FIPA: (604) 739-9788
Jason Gratl, BC Civil Liberties Association: (604) 687-3013
Devon Page, Sierra Legal Defence Fund: (604) 685-5618 (ext. 233)
Wendy McLellan, Canadian Association of Journalists: (604) 605-2030
Sara MacIntyre, Canadian Taxpayers Federation: (250) 388-3660

News coverage

Vancouver Sun
The Province

FIPA asked the leaders of the three major BC party leaders for their positions on freedom of information issues. Here are their responses:

Liberal Party

NDP

Green Party

FIPA asks BC party leaders for positions on Freedom of Information issues

FIPA sent a letter on May 4 to the Leaders of BC’s three leading political parties, asking them to clearly state their positions on a wide range of issues concerning freedom of information. We are deeply concerned with the 10-year decline in access to government information that has occurred under the last NDP and current Liberal administrations.

Update: Responses from the three party leaders have now been received:

Questions for Party Leaders

Liberal Party

NDP

Green Party

BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) was passed in 1992. In recent years, there has been a serious decline in the health of the FOI process, resulting in increasing barriers to timely access to information for many citizens. These problems began with severe budget cuts to FOI administration under the last NDP administration, but have continued and even increased under the Liberal administration.

The problems mainly concern access to general (that is, non-personal) information. FIPA’s research shows that delays and fee assessments for FOI requests have risen sharply, and that the functionality of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is badly impaired following cuts to its budget of 35 percent.

In addition, a number of serious deficiencies in the FOIPPA have become apparent over the years and the Act is overdue for reform and updating. The need for FOI reform has been recognized and called for by FIPA, the Information and Privacy Commissioner, and two Special Committees of the Legislature.