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Mass surveillance harms the public interest: report

TORONTONov. 14, 2016 /CNW/ - As it becomes clear that police forces in Canada are actively spying on journalists, and damaging freedom of the press in the process, a new report confirms that writers across Canada are so concerned about mass surveillance that some are self-censoring their own activities.

Chilling Free Expression in Canada, a revealing report that draws upon a survey of 120 writers and journalists, shows that the vast majority of respondents expressed concern about government and corporate surveillance in Canada and abroad, and that resulting infringements on their privacy is causing a disturbing number of writers to think twice about what they publish and how they conduct research.

Read the full report here

The survey illuminates a Canadian perspective on a conversation already happening elsewhere. The Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University, in collaboration with PEN Canada and the Canadian Association of Journalists, conducted the survey of 129 Canadian writers and journalists between May 27 and June 20, 2016.

Close to a quarter of writers and journalists surveyed reported that they avoid writing about certain topics because of government and corporate surveillance. A fifth said they refrain from conducting internet searches or visiting web sites on topics that may be considered controversial or suspicious. "Writers and journalists are society's eyes and ears," says Centre for Free Expression Director James L. Turk. "If fear of surveillance is causing them to self-censor, the public is being denied important stories, and we are the poorer for it."

More than 70 per cent of respondents agreed that most Canadians are unconcerned or unaware about government surveillance. That has to change, says CAJ President Nick Taylor-Vaisey. "We know that police actively spy on journalists, and that whistleblowers who trust reporters to protect their identities will now be less willing to come forward," he says. "Canadians must understand the gravity of that ongoing threat to the public interest."

"The freedom of expression, not just of writers and journalists, but of all Canadians, needs constant and vigilant defence," says Grace Westcott, Executive Director of PEN Canada. "Mass government surveillance effectively encroaches on that freedom, to all our cost."

The Centre for Free Expression in the Faculty of Communication and Design at Ryerson University is a hub for public education, research and advocacy on free expression and the public's right to know. Our work is undertaken in collaboration with academic and community-based organizations across Canada and internationally.

The CAJ is Canada's largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing nearly 500 members across the country. The CAJ's primary roles are to provide public-interest advocacy and high-quality professional development for its members.

PEN Canada is a non-partisan organization of writers that works to defend the right to freedom of expression at home and abroad.  PEN Canada celebrates literature, fights censorship, helps free persecuted writers from prison and assists writers living in exile in Canada.

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CAJ Award categories

 

The Canadian Association of Journalists recognizes Canada’s best journalism in the following categories. If you have any questions about the awards, please contact the CAJ awards committee.

To go to the entry page, visit www.caj.ca/enterawards. For the rules of entry and other information, click here.

Categories

Investigative Journalism

These categories recognize journalism in a variety of media. Entries don’t have to be purely investigative to qualify; investigative entries are given added weight. Items based on the same body of research, regardless of which medium they were released in, can only be entered in one category. The recipient(s) of the Don McGillivray Award for Investigative Journalism is/are chosen from these categories.

Open media

Entries welcome for predominantly text-based pieces published in print or online, in any Canadian media outlet, regardless of publication frequency, circulation or audience reach. An entry is one piece or a series limited to five related pieces, published at any time in the preceding calendar year.

Community media

Entries welcome for predominantly text-based pieces published in print or online in any Canadian media outlet. Print entries limited to those media printed fewer than five times a week or with an average daily print circulation of under 25,000. Online-only entries not from a print newsroom must provide verifiable proof the website serves a regional or community audience. An entry is one piece or a series limited to five related pieces, published at any time in the preceding calendar year.

Open broadcast feature

Entries welcome for any piece with a runtime of over five minutes, predominantly audio and/or video, broadcast to an audience of any size over the air or online. An entry is one piece or a series limited to five related pieces, broadcast at any time in in the preceding calendar year.

Open broadcast news

Entries of any length welcome for any piece, predominantly audio and/or video, broadcast to an audience of any size over the air or online. These entries can be of any length—judges and the CAJ awards committee reserve the right to recommend entries with longer runtimes be moved into the Open broadcast feature category. An entry is one piece (single piece broadcast on a single day) or a series of no more than five related pieces, broadcast at any time in the preceding calendar year.

Community broadcast

Entries of any length welcome for any piece, predominantly audio and/or video, whose broadcast is targeted to a community or regional audience over the air or online. Over the air broadcast submissions must come from a local or regional station. Online entries not from a TV or radio broadcaster must provide verifiable proof the website is targeted at and serves a regional or community audience. An entry is one piece (single piece broadcast on a single day) or a series of no more than five related pieces, broadcast at any time in the preceding calendar year.

CAJ / Marketwired data journalism

Entries welcome from any media in any format published or broadcast in Canada where data journalism / CAR techniques played a key and indispensable part in developing the story. This category is meant to highlight the use of data journalism, but not at the expense of good journalism and good storytelling. An entry is one piece or a series limited to five related pieces— this count does not include any datasets published as part of the submitted items.

Online media

Entries welcome in any online-only format. No part of this entry can include any element that was published in print or broadcast on television or radio. Entries of online work that "wrap" around something that has been broadcast or published in print (for example, an "online extra" that was created to supplement a video documentary) are best entered in media or broadcast categories, with the online work as one of the permitted related items.

This really is a category to recognize work done by Canadian media exclusively for online, only available online. Entries limited to one URL or up to five related URLs, all posted in the 2016 calendar year.

General awards

The following categories recognize exemplary journalism as laid out below. The winning entries in each of these categories is not eligible for consideration for the Don McGillivray award.

Photojournalism

Entries welcome showcasing a portfolio of up to 20 photographs demonstrating journalistic vision, consistent quality and a reflection of the entrant’s professionalism and journalistic abilities. Photos (including soundslides or equivalent) must have been first published or broadcast by Canadian media (URL or other proof of publication required).

Scoop

Entries welcome from any media in any format published or broadcast in Canada that can show how it was the first to bring new or significant information to light of regional or national importance. Entry limited to a single piece published or broadcast on any single day in the preceding calendar year. A supporting letter with details on how the entry was a regional/national scoop is a required element of this category.

Daily excellence

Entries welcome from print, radio and television journalists for items published or broadcast in Canada demonstrating excellence in daily, deadline-driven reporting based on same-day research. We want to consider the result of a single day’s work where the research, interviews, writing, editing, etc. all took place on the same day. Entry limited to a single piece plus related element (ex: sidebar, online hit, etc.) published or broadcast on a single day in the preceding calendar year.

Text feature

Entries welcome for any primarily text-based article published in print or online in Canada that is not specifically investigative in nature. Entries limited to a single piece published on a single day in the preceding calendar year.

JHR / CAJ Award for Human Rights Reporting 

What is human rights reporting? This prize rewards journalism that puts a human face on situations where human rights are not respected and/or holds authorities to account to do a better job of protecting those rights. As a result, the story builds awareness of human rights and social justice issues, and shows the human impact and the human cost of abstract political and economic forces. To qualify, a story must also be international in scope. For examples of human rights reporting, visit www.jhr.ca/success/

Entries limited to a single piece, published or broadcast on a single day in the preceding calendar year.

CWA Canada / CAJ Award for Labour Reporting

What are labour issues? Judges will be instructed to reward those entries that effectively bring to the public’s attention important labour issues. The award seeks to honour journalism that goes beyond a work-to-rule, strike, lockout or other job action and shows skill in reporting on the social, economic and political factors that impact the labour environment in Canada. Entries showing impact on policy, law or public awareness are encouraged. This award is meant to recognize great journalism on labour issues that can make a difference in the lives of Canadians.

Does an entry have to be reporting on a union? No– judges are looking for the best journalism on labour issues. While Canada’s unions are integral to the labour movement, not all of the labour issues that are reported on in this country involve unions. It’s expected many entries will include the labour movement and unions, but this is not a requirement of the award.

Entries are encouraged in either official language. Entries are a single piece, published or broadcast on a single day in the preceding calendar year. Should the judges determine it appropriate, one award may be handed out for reporting done in English and another in French.

CAJ / CNW Group Student Award of Excellence

The award recognizes excellence in the field of journalism at the student level. Submissions will be accepted from all students enrolled (at the time of publication or broadcast) in an accredited degree/diploma program offered by a Canadian post-secondary institution. Feature-style entries are preferred, but any format or style permitted. Proof of enrolment and a cover letter speaking to the origins, difficulties and resulting change / impact / action must accompany entries. Entries will not be considered complete until these have been submitted. Entries may be a single piece, or series of up to five related pieces, published or broadcast at any time in the preceding calendar year.

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CAJ Awards – rules of entry and other important information

Entry procedures:

Entries must have been first published or broadcast in either official language by a Canadian-based media outlet within the previous calendar year. Entries welcomed from journalists working outside of Canada, provided the location of first broadcast / publication originated within Canada. Proof of publication / broadcast meeting these criteria, if not ascertainable from the entry itself, may be requested by the awards committee.

The CAJ Awards wants to recognize your best work and we acknowledge it can be challenging at times to pull out a few items from a body of work that includes many different elements. We hope the following criteria, in addition to what’s listed with each category, can be helpful in determining what is chosen for submission.

  • Entry composition is defined online for each category. Please do not overburden the judges with an unending entry. Careful consideration of which elements are included with an entry that effectively demonstrate your best work is encouraged.
  • Material produced from the same body of research cannot be submitted in multiple categories (ex: Same topic and sources feed items published in print and broadcast on television— only eligible for submission in one category). Entrants are encouraged to carefully weigh what they’ve produced and which elements most powerfully and effectively tell the story and submit the appropriate pieces into the suitable category.
  • No part of any entry can be submitted in another category. No part of any team entry can be submitted by an individual in the same or another category. Entrants are asked to carefully consider and weigh the categories before submitting.
  • NEW! A cover letter must be submitted with each entry. It should detail what circumstances led to the publication / broadcast of the story. It should also outline impact, change or action resulting from the publication and/or broadcast of the entry. It is useful to have information on the resources available to the journalist(s) completing the piece(s) submitted in the entry. Cover letters should not be endorsements or testimonials. Judges want to know how and why you did the work and its impact.
  • If submitting a team entry, please include the names of all those who were part of the team as part of your entry – if it was a large team, please submit the list separately from the entry if required. We will not recognize finalist team members whose names were not included when the team entry was finalized and submitted, so please ensure all those deserving of credit for the entry are listed on submission and payment.

Questions regarding these entry procedures can be submitted to the attention of the CAJ awards committee via e-mail.

Fees:

Fees remain unchanged. CAJ members (whether entering as individuals or as teams) continue to receive substantial discounts over non-members when entering the CAJ awards program. CAJ student members are eligible to submit in the student category at no cost. Become a member today!

Please note the fee structure (all fees include taxes):

  • Member fee – $30
  • Non-member fee – $110
  • Student award entries for CAJ student members – FREE
  • Student member entry fee, other categories – $25
  • Team entry where all are CAJ members – $60
  • Team entry including non-CAJ members – $200
  • Student team entries — please contact the awards committee
* Student award entries for non-members (from individuals) are not permitted. Student members are welcome to apply in other categories at the $25 or team rates. Students who are not members are encouraged to become members at a cost of $20.
 

Judging procedures:

At least one winning entry per category can be declared by the judges. Winning entries in the investigative categories are then passed on to the Don McGillivray Award judges, who decide the winner of this overall award. Judges may declare “no winner” for a category. If this occurs, no finalists in that category will be announced.

Judges use the same published criteria available to those who enter the awards along with the general criteria below to determine their ranking.

In those categories including French-language entries, the awards committee will assign a minimum of one bilingual or Francophone judge to the category. Judges selected and assigned by the awards committee are experienced journalists who are not eligible to compete in the category in which they are judging.

Recipients will be announced at the 2017 CAJ conference in Ottawa, April 28-29, 2017.

Judges are asked to consider the following:

  • Entries in investigative categories need not be purely investigative, however investigative entries are given added weight;
  • Original subjects and content matter;
  • Effective use of the medium—imagery, clarity, language and narrative;
  • The breadth and scope of the research undertaken, as well as how it was used within the entry;
  • Impact and timeliness;    
  • The degree of difficulty in research or production, resources available to the journalist / newsroom, time available for production and/or risk involved in getting the story;
  • In the photojournalism category, the objective is not to find the single best photo but the overall body of work submitted in the entry;
  • In the labour category, entries that go beyond a work-to-rule, strike, lockout or other job action to report on the broader social, economic and political impact on the labour movement and market will be given preference and added weight.

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Montreal police were wrong to spy on a La Presse journalist

OTTAWA, Nov. 1, 2016 — When Montreal police brazenly surveilled La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé's cell phone, they instantly damaged press freedom in that city and across Canada, said the Canadian Association of Journalists.

La Presse revealed on Oct. 31 that Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal investigators had obtained 24 warrants to track Lagacé's location and delve into his iPhone's metadata in search of his confidential sources. The inexcusable surveillance of a journalist's activities, which police chief Philippe Pichet called an "exceptional situation," was part of a larger internal investigation involving an SPVM officer.

The surveillance of Lagacé's cell phone is the second worrying infringement on press freedom in Montreal in just over a month. In September, the CAJ joined our Quebec colleagues in condemning the Surete de Quebec's seizure of Journal de Montreal reporter Michael Nguyen's computer. "The public interest would be better served if investigators focused on the subject of Nguyen's reporting," we said at the time.

When this most-recent infringement came to light, it was swiftly—and rightly—condemned by the municipal opposition, and Mayor Denis Coderre and Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux later reinforced the importance of press freedom to a functioning democracy.

"Journalists are not a branch of law enforcement. Whistleblowers trust journalists to tell their stories and protect their identities, said CAJ President Nick Taylor-Vaisey. "We report stories in the public interest, and the confidentiality of our sources is often vital in that work. It's inexcusable for a police force to forget that."

The CAJ will always speak out against police forces who seek—and judges who wrongfully grant—warrants that interfere with journalists doing their jobs. The public must know when law enforcement agencies overstep their bounds.

The CAJ is Canada's largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing nearly 500 members across the country. The CAJ's primary roles are to provide public-interest advocacy and high-quality professional development for its members.

For further information: Nick Taylor-Vaisey, CAJ president, 647-968-2393, nick@caj.ca

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Newfoundland journalist should not be arrested for doing his job

OTTAWA, OCT. 28  — Journalists must be able to bear witness to events in the public interest without fear that they’ll face legal consequences just for doing their job, said the Canadian Association of Journalists in the aftermath of a protest at the worksite of the controversial Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador.

Justin Brake, a journalist and editor at the Independent newspaper in that province, had embedded himself with Indigenous protesters who’d entered the worksite in defiance of an existing injunction. Brake was the only reporter to enter the site’s perimeter, and one of only a few journalists covering the occupation.

On the morning of Oct. 25, Brake was named in a court-ordered subpoena that allowed the local sheriff to arrest any individuals who had violated the injunction received by Nalcor Energy, the proponent of the project. Brake left the site, but may still face charges—despite his assertion that he was acting solely as a reporter filing for the Independent.

“We want to know why a reporter’s name was not removed from the subpoena as soon as it became apparent that he was simply following a story and telling it to his readers,” said CAJ President Nick Taylor-Vaisey. “It’s imperative that reporters be allowed to work in the public interest, as is our constitutional right.”

Authorities also have to recognize that all citizens have a right to observe, question and speak out about powerful interests in their communities. As mainstream news sources are less able to cover developing stories in remote areas, independent news sources and active citizens continue to speak truth to power. Their freedom of expression must be recognized.

The CAJ is Canada's largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing nearly 500 members across the country. The CAJ's primary roles are to provide public-interest advocacy and high-quality professional development for its members.

For more information:

Nick Taylor-Vaisey, CAJ president

647-968-2393

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UNFCCC media accreditation for Rebel News Network

The letter below is a reproduction of the correspondence the CAJ sent to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. See the original letter here.

Oct. 13, 2016
RE: UNFCCC media accreditation for Rebel News Network


Dear sir or madam,

I write to you today in my capacity as president of a leading advocacy group for working journalists in Canada. It has come to the CAJ’s attention that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat denied a request for media accreditation to journalists who work at The Rebel—and who wish to report on the Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco that runs Nov. 7-18.

The CAJ encourages the Secretariat to reverse that decision and grant media accreditation to the two reporters and photographer who submitted applications. We disagree with the apparent rationale for the rejection of accreditation; namely, that The Rebel does not satisfy the four criteria set out for officially accredited online media; and that the organization was denied accreditation on the basis of publishing “advocacy journalism,” a term the UNFCCC website fails to define (which raises a serious concern that the label is provided arbitrarily).

The Rebel is an independent media outlet funded by subscriptions and advertising. The organization employs 21 journalists, consistently publishes original news stories that often go otherwise untold, regularly reports on provincial legislatures across Canada, and counts among its staff an accredited member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa.

The CAJ is a staunch supporter of free expression in Canada and around the world. We believe that The Rebel, a legitimate digital news organization, deserves a seat at the same table as the rest of the traditional, broadcast, and online journalists who will cover the Climate Change Conference in November. We encourage the UNFCCC secretariat to approve The Rebel’s application so it can report on issues of significant national and international interest.

Yours sincerely,

Nick Taylor-Vaisey
President, Canadian Association of Journalists

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CAJ condemns seizure of Journal de Montreal reporter’s computer

OTTAWA, Sept. 23, 2016 – The Canadian Association of Journalists adds its voice to those of its Quebec colleagues in criticizing the Surete de Quebec’s seizure of Michael Nguyen’s computer.

The computer was seized as a result of an investigation being conducted by Quebec’s judicial council based on Nguyen’s reporting of Quebec Court Judge Suzanne Vadeboncoeur behaviour published by the Journal de Montreal in June. The SQ are seeking information on the source of a video used as the basis for the reporting.

“Journalists are not police officers, officers of the court or part of law enforcement – to be so would threaten journalists’ independence that is vital to public-interest reporting,” said CAJ president Nick Taylor-Vaisey. “In this case, a journalist did his job in bringing a matter of immense public interest speaking to the integrity of those serving on the bench to light.

“Rather than seize this journalist’s materials, the public interest would be better served if investigators focused on the subject of Nguyen’s reporting.”

The computer in question is under judicial seal until a judge can rule on the validity of the search warrant used to obtain it. The CAJ hopes it will be excluded as necessary evidence and returned to Nguyen promptly.

The CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing nearly 500 members across the country. The CAJ’s primary roles are to provide public-interest advocacy and high-quality professional development for its members.

For further information: Nick Taylor-Vaisey, CAJ president, 647-968-2393, nick@caj.ca

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CAJ on local news: Our submission to the House of Commons

The CAJ was invited to testify at the House of Commons standing committee on Canadian Heritage on the future of local news. Read our submission below. For the rest of our testimony, click here.

Thank you for inviting us to appear here today. I’m Nick Taylor-Vaisey, the president of the Canadian Association of Journalists. I’m here today in that capacity, and do not speak on behalf of my employer. I’ll be sharing my time with Hugo Rodrigues, the CAJ’s past-president. Today, we’re speaking to you in Ottawa and from Toronto, but our National Board represents almost every corner of Canada. We see that as a strength, even if it does make our board meetings across several time zones tricky to schedule. It’s a strength because the CAJ is a truly national association of working journalists with members all over the country, and across all forms of media.

Before we offer you our thoughts on how the federal government can proactively, but non-intrusively, encourage high-quality journalism in Canada, allow us to tell you a bit more about our organization.

The CAJ was founded in 1978 as the Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit organization that encouraged and supported investigative journalism. Over the years, we broadened our mandate, and now offer three primary services to our members: high-quality professional development, primarily at our annual national conference; outspoken advocacy on behalf of journalists and the public’s right to know; and an awards program that honours the finest journalism in Canada—both investigative and across several other categories—and is affordable for our members.

Our members are the working journalists who are responsible for outstanding reporting that changes lives, forces governments to do better for Canadians, and ultimately serves the public interest. They’re local reporters who keep their eye on city hall when few others are watching, and who simply report the news that better informs their community. Of course, our members are often the first to feel the brunt of layoffs that have cut so deeply across newsrooms.

We are here to provide two modest recommendations that would allow more storytelling in more local newsrooms, and help stem the tide of job losses, at least to some degree, in those same newsrooms. The first recommendation is that government provides incentives to prospective local advertisers in Canadian communities; the second recommendation is that government make it easier for non-profit journalism to take flight in Canada.

You’ve already heard in prior testimony to this committee, and you no doubt already knew, that media are facing a revenue problem. Advertisers are able to exploit digital opportunities that offer more eyeballs and a larger audience share. This has irrevocably shifted balance sheets at media companies across Canada — first it was the classifieds, then the national ads, and now it’s hitting us at every level.

Just this week, the Rainy River Record, a paper that has served its readers for almost a century, announced it will stop publication this month and shut its doors. Why? The Record’s publisher said two of its major advertisers, the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario, have chosen to, as he put it, “shun newspaper advertising” in favour of global giants like Google. That closure represents yet another blow to all newspapers in both Ontario and across Canada.

Put simply: As revenues drop, many media owners cut expenses by laying off journalists. With fewer human resources in those newsrooms, less journalism is produced and journalists spend more time chasing audiences that generate potential new online revenue than they do investing in content. With less content available and the quality of that content dropping, audiences look elsewhere for the information they want. All the while, revenues continue to drop.

Bob Cox, the chair of the Canadian Newspaper Association, told this committee on May 31 the federal government “could find ways of encouraging Canadian companies to spend their advertising dollars here.” The CAJ supports that view.

We’re not proposing a regulatory solution to the pervasive revenue question that’s gone largely unanswered in many media companies, both big and small. To be certain, different markets face different pressures, and some have more success than others. But there’s a clear and urgent need to find creative solutions for those communities in need.

The CAJ does support, generally speaking, government making it easier to invest in Canadian media—for instance, a tax break for local advertisers who currently see no advantage in placing an ad in their local newspaper or broadcaster. We know that when local media can raise enough revenue from their community, they can thrive. Let’s offer an incentive for companies to invest in the journalism being done in their backyards.

When media companies can cover their expenses through the revenues they raise from advertising, they can and do invest in quality — content that informs Canadians about their roles and responsibilities in a civil society, that shines a light in dark places, speaks truth to power and comforts the afflicted.

We also think government can play a useful role in the nonprofit world, which can play a crucial role in public-interest reporting and public education. This is, of course, distinct from public broadcasters such as the CBC and its public-broadcasting counterparts, including Ontario’s TVO. The CAJ believes Canada should embrace non-profit journalism as other countries, including the United States, already do.

To cherry-pick one example, ProPublica is a charitable organization south of the border that counts itself as one among many so-called 501(c)(3) non-profits. That’s a reference to sec. 501(c)(3) of the U.S.’s Internal Revenue Code, and it allows qualifying organizations tax-exempt status for the purposes of, among other goals, public education.

Now, that doesn’t mean transforming local reporters into civics teachers, though we certainly find ourselves playing that role from time to time in our communities. ProPublica describes its investigative reporting as work that “shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.” Not exactly the sort of thing you’ll find in an elementary school classroom, but it’s certainly as valuable.

Non-profit journalism does exist in Canada. The Walrus Foundation, The Tyee Solutions Society and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network all operate as charities—and with success. They’ve proven that charities can fund journalism. But there are far fewer examples in Canada than there are elsewhere in the world. The Knight Foundation in the U.S. and the trust-backed Guardian in the U.K. are but two examples of journalism-focused philanthropic initiatives that simply have no equal in Canada.

Non-profit media organizations have created compelling, groundbreaking stories that educate and inform their audiences about how their society works. Civic education is lacking in Canada, and while non-profit journalism isn’t a panacea for this problem, any government action to create and foster a friendly business environment to invest in these organizations can only help enable more of them to get started and flourish.

The more media outlets — whether traditional, mainstream, online, etc. — that operate in Canada, the more informed our residents will be. And that only strengthens our democracy.

Thank you for your time.

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Fix Canada’s broken access to information system

 

The deficit of trust between Canada’s voters and its elected officials has never been higher, largely due to a breakdown in the system of accountability. Key to this is the fact that, after years of neglect, Canada’s access to information system is in crisis. The undersigned organisations are calling on the main political parties in Canada to make concrete commitments to reform Canada’s access to information system.

A strong access to information system is vital to maintaining a healthy democracy. Elections depend on the ability of individuals to understand how government has performed and the background to policy decisions. Journalists and civil society rely on requests for information to monitor public bodies and to uncover malfeasance. Vital oversight functions are curtailed in the absence of an effective right to information system. The current system is failing Canadians.

Our country deserves an open and accountable government. We call on all political parties to make a clear electoral promise to undertake a comprehensive process of consultation leading to reform of the Access to Information Act and to express specific support for the rapid adoption of the following four reforms after the election:

1. Strengthen the Information Commissioner: Grant the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) order-making power and expand the OIC’s mandate to include promoting the right to information.

2. Eliminate loopholes: Repeal all blanket exclusions from the Access to Information Act and amend the regime of exceptions so that they apply only where release of the information would pose a real risk of harm to a legitimate interest set out in the Act. Also, make all exceptions subject to an override, whereby information will be released if its disclosure is in the overall public interest.

3. Expand the scope of the Act: Extend the Access to Information Act to apply to all public authorities, including ministers’ offices, the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet, and other bodies which perform a public function or receive significant public funding.

4. Document decisions: Commit to requiring public officials to document and preserve records of their communications and decision-making, regardless of the medium of communication.

Canadians of all political stripes want honest and transparent government, and have spent decades waiting for a government willing to deliver it. We urge all parties to endorse these four reform commitments, and to support a comprehensive review of the Access to Information Act in the aftermath of the election.

Signed,

L’Association des Journalistes Indépendants du Québec (AJIQ)
BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA)
BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA)
Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Canadian Media Guild / CWA Canada
Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF)
Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD)
Centre for Social Justice
Evidence for Democracy
Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec (FPJQ)
Greenpeace Canada
International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group
Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
PEN Canada
Politics of Evidence Working Group
Newspapers Canada
OpenMedia
Our Right to Know
Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia
Voices-Voix
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) 

How has Canada’s access to information system fallen by the wayside?

  • A ranking of the world’s access to information laws by the Centre for Law and Democracy rated Canada 59th globally. This is down from 51st place just three years ago, as more and more countries leapfrog ahead of us.

  • A recent study by the Toronto Star of 28,000 access to information requests revealed that 57 per cent of all data released was censored in some way, and 18 per cent could not be found at all.

  • In some cases, government departments have told Canadians they would have to wait more than a thousand days for a response to their access to information request, well beyond the 30 days set out in law.

  • Last November, Information Commissioner of Canada Suzanne Legault warned that an increase in the number of complaints to her office had led to a critical shortage of resources. Rather than offering more funding, MPs suggested increasing the price of filing a request for information, in order to discourage use of the system.

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In wake of newsroom cuts, Canada should embrace non-profit journalism

OTTAWA, Aug. 11, 2016 – Torontonians and Canadians will be information poorer as a result of the Toronto Star’s recent decision to lay off 45 newsroom staff – something the Canadian Association of Journalists believes further heightens the need for government action to foster and support public-interest reporting.

At a time when cutbacks have reduced many papers to recycling rather than reporting the news, the Toronto Star – home to one of the few investigative journalism teams in the country – has distinguished itself with a continuing commitment to truth-finding and truth-telling.

But this week, the Toronto Star announced it was eliminating 52 positions – including 45 from its newsroom.

“These cuts will inevitably compromise the paper’s capacity to cover public issues in Toronto, Ontario and Canada as a whole – resulting in less-informed citizens, less-informed consumers and a more ignorant society,” said CAJ President Nick Taylor-Vaisey.

“A panel of MPs is currently studying the state of the Canadian media. But this news brings into relief the urgent need for the government to move from study to action,” he added.

Taylor-Vaisey said such measures could include the removal of restrictions that obstruct charitable support for non-profit journalistic endeavours. In the U.S., such efforts have helped fill the gap in coverage created by cutbacks at for-profit news outlets.

The CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing over 600 members across the country. The CAJ’s primary roles are to provide high?quality professional development for its members and public?interest advocacy.

For further information:

Nick Taylor-Vaisey, CAJ president, 647-968-2393 cell, nick@caj.ca

www.caj.ca | www.facebook.com/CdnAssocJournalists | www.twitter.com/CAJ

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