Ottawa’s point-man on access-to-information reform, Treasury Board President Scott Brison, is this year’s first recipient of the Code of Silence Award for outstanding achievement in government secrecy won by the Treasury Board of Canada, which he heads.
The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), Centre for Free Expression (CFE), News Media Canada and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) have joined forces to expand an award that the CAJ has for almost 20 years handed out to government departments, agencies or public bodies that put that extra bit of elbow grease into keeping any sunlight from reaching the public’s business. Previous winners include a former prime minister’s office, omnibus government legislation and Ontario’s Office of the Fire Marshal.
The awards jury, which comprised representatives of the four press-freedom advocacy groups, “honoured” the Treasury Board, and Mr. Brison, with this citation:
Canadian political parties on the left, right and in the centre often break their promises to be more open and less secretive once they win government. But that doesn’t make it any less disappointing or disturbing that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberals seems to be doing the same thing. Before the election, Trudeau said his government would be “open by default.” As part of that initiative, he said he would make the prime minister’s office and minister’s offices subject to access to information requests.
But Trudeau and Brison, who is responsible for administering the Access to Information Act, haven’t closed any of the law’s loopholes. That includes continuing to ensure the prime minister’s office and ministers offices remain, in the words of CBC News freedom of information specialist and nominator Dean Beeby, “impenetrable bastions of secrecy, a safe zone, free from the obligation to respond to pesky requests by citizens for information on how their tax dollars are being spent.”
The CAJ, CFE, News Media Canada and CJFE will announce three additional Code of Silence Award winners in the coming weeks. All four organizations will continue to advocate for substantive reform to Canada’s federal access-to-information law.