Thursday, May 19, 2011

Canada: Harper government's F minus on access to information

Source: IFEX, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)

When it comes to access to information, Canada has received an F minus and is positioned last among five leading democracies, says Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) in a new report that is making headlines in the country.

For the second year running, CJFE gave Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government a failing grade, saying it has taken longer than ever to access information under his leadership and that information received is far more incomplete.

"The governing party was ruled in contempt of Parliament for failing to produce information about major spending programmes," the report states, which "may explain why journalists seem to be using the access system less often than in the past."

According to CJFE, "More than half of the federal institutions surveyed for their performance on access to information ranked below average and five failed outright." Forty-four percent of federal access to information requests aren't met within the required 30-day limit, while it takes an average of 395 days to resolve an access to information complaint.

The review also gives a failing grade to security forces and the federal government for calling last summer's G20 Summit in Toronto an "unmitigated success." CJFE considered the event where thousands were detained the "most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history."

Repeated refusals to recognise the credentials of journalists, and multiple incidents of journalist harassment and detention, made up the "long list of violations" of freedom of expression, said CJFE. "It was not a success but an abject failure."

The government's record on access to information and the G20 are enough evidence that "protecting freedom of expression right here in Canada requires constant vigilance," said CJFE.

Despite the bleak overall showing, CJFE is hoping the stability of the recently elected Conservative majority government will cause Prime Minister Stephen Harper to make some positive changes to access to information and freedom of expression issues.

"We hope that now, with this majority, the Prime Minister will finally act to fulfil all of his 2006 election promises to reform free access to information and once again make Canada a world-class, open, transparent country," said CJFE.

The report card is part of CJFE's annual review, which also celebrates 30 years of CJFE and includes a summary of all major legal cases on free expression throughout 2010-11, a positive spin on the WikiLeaks dump, and more.

Access it here.