By Sean Holman
TOTALLY TRANSPARENT. National Newswatch’s Don Lenihan continued overstating the Liberal’s government transparency platform plank last week, writing that party leader Justin Trudeau “has a long list of Open Government reforms.” For the record, that list is comprised of five bullet points and totals 128 words.
BY THE NUMBERS. Last week, I noted that reporters are estimated to have filed over 10 times more freedom-of-information requests with British Columbia government ministries per 100,000 people living in that province than they did in Alberta. But how do the other Canadian provinces stack up? Well, only three other provinces track the data needed to make that comparison. Nevertheless, the numbers we do have make for interesting reading:
Ontario (calendar year 2012)
215 media requests
1.9 per cent of all requests
1.6 requests per 100,000
Alberta (fiscal year 2012/13)
110 media requests
4.6 per cent of all requests
2.8 requests per 100,000
Nova Scotia (fiscal year 2012/13)
73 media requests
4.7 per cent of all requests
7.7 requests per 100,000
Manitoba (calendar year 2012)
146 media requests
8.7 per cent of all requests
11.7 requests per 100,000
Newfoundland and Labrador (fiscal year 2012/13)
73 media requests
25.6 per cent of all requests
13.9 requests per 100,000
British Columbia (fiscal year 2012/13)
28.1 per cent of all requests
29.9 requests per 100,000
RIGHTS BUT NO RESPONSIBILITIES? In Canada, journalists exercise our right to information, as well as our freedom of expression, in our own interest, as well as the public interest.
But to what extent do journalists have a responsibility to protect those rights and freedoms?
And, if journalists don’t feel such a responsibility or don’t feel able to act on that responsibility, why is that and how is that affecting the decline of journalism and the ascendancy of spin in this country?
Those are just some of the questions I’ve been asking myself after the news media provided little or no coverage of an effort to make freedom of information an election issue, as well as the 20th anniversary of Alberta’s broken records access law.
I’ll be ruminating more about this in the future. But, in the meantime, I invite you to share your own perspectives by emailing me at this address.
• The Hill Times reports the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development has called in the RCMP to conduct an investigation into the leak of an internal briefing document warning senior federal government insiders that Canada’s clout in the international community is diminishing.
• Meanwhile, according to CBC News, the Mounties are also looking into the leak of internal documents showing the Prime Minister’s Office directed officials to “stop processing a preliminary group of Syrian refugees, pending an audit of their cases.”
• The Tyee reports Conservative Leader Stephen Harper “met privately with select media outlets at the Red Truck Beer Company in East Vancouver this morning.” A source told the online magazine that “those invited were asked to submit three questions days ahead of time [and] then told which ones they could ask the Prime Minister.”
• The Telegraph reports Newfoundland and Labrador’s information commissioner has ordered the “release most of a controversial, secret report into sexual exploitation in the province.” According to the newspaper, the government has “argued that the report was based on interviews with sex workers and vulnerable individuals who could be put in danger if it was released publicly.”
• New Brunswick’s public safety minister has, according to the Telegraph-Journal, “shut down a right-to-information request seeking details around the death of man at the Saint John Regional Hospital last month, citing an ongoing coroner's investigation.”
• The Telegraph-Journal reports New Brunswick’s Horizon Health Network is “refusing to release two reports about how to improve hospital security and patient safety after the death of Serena Perry,” a 22-year-old patient who was staying in Saint John Regional Hospital’s psychiatric unit on the nigh of Valentine’s Day 2012.
• The Globe and Mail reports “Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne agreed to bar the media from three events with a high-ranking Chinese official at the request of the Communist Party” (hat tip: IntegrityBC).
• The Times-Transcript opines that New Brunswick’s “access to information and protection of privacy regulations appear to have worked well in the case of a Moncton daycare inspection report, in that the public's right to know has been upheld in a way that also protects an individual worker at the daycare in question.”
• An all-party legislative committee is reviewing British Columbia’s freedom of information law, with submissions being due on Jan. 29, 2016.
• SooToday.com reports the Ontario government “fought beak and claw” to prevent the release of information about wood turtles in the vicinity of the Bow Lake Wind Farm.
• Freelancer Bob Mackin tweets the British Columbia government “wants to charge $3K to show info about its propaganda website redesign.”
• The Vancouver Sun’s Daphne Bramham reports an online poll of 611 Metro Vancouver adults was asked to rank the University of British Columbia’s assets. According to the poll, “transparency was dead last, with 32 per cent saying it was ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ representative of UBC” (hat tip: IntegrityBC).
• According to the New Westminster Record, British Columbia’s Douglas College has “declined to answer questions about the departure of its former president or why the institution continued to pay him $14,000 a month after he left suddenly last year.”
• A freedom-of-information request filed by the Collingwood Connection for the Town of Collingwood, Ont.’s Elvis festival contract has been denied.
• The Richmond News quotes the City of Richmond, B.C.’s planning policy manager Terry Crowe as saying the switch from the mandatory long-form census to the National Household Survey means, “You're starting from scratch so it's difficult to get a sense of the trends.”
• The Region of Peel, Ont., is debating creating a lobbyist registry, reports the Caledon Enterprise. But, according to the newspaper, the “hiccup is not knowing what a lobbyist is.”
Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to which provinces track FOI data. We apologize for the error.
Sean Holman writes The Unknowable Country column, which looks at politics, democracy and journalism. He is a journalism professor at Mount Royal University, in Calgary, an award-winning investigative reporter and director of the documentary Whipped: the secret world of party discipline. Have a news tip about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email him at this address.