Anti-secrecy recommendations must be acted on: CAJ

OTTAWA, June 17, 2016 — The Canadian Association of Journalists applauds an all-party committee of MPs for recommending reforms that could make the federal government less secretive. But it remains to be seen if Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will actually act on them, helping fulfill his promise to run a more “open and transparent” government.

The CAJ appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in April. During that appearance, CAJ vice-president Sean Holman called on members to significantly reduce the “expansive zone of secrecy surrounding the government’s decision-making processes” and legally require the proactive publication of broad categories of government records. (Read the CAJ’s full submission to the committee here.)

Under the existing Access to Information Act, the government can refuse access to any recommendations developed for public officials, as well as accounts of their consultations or deliberations, for a 20-year period. The law also prohibits access to any records related to cabinet, government’s principle decision-making body, for the same period.

In a report released Thursday, the committee recommended the government reduce that time period. The committee also recommended that the public be allowed immediate access to some kinds of records that may currently be inaccessible because they are classified as policy advice or cabinet material. And it called for a legal mechanism to ensure the government is unable to censor any information that is related to an environmental, health, public safety or other public interest issue.

“These are all important steps along the long road to less government secrecy in this country,” said Canadian Association of Journalists president Nick Taylor-Vaisey, who noted the committee also recommended institutions be “required to proactively publish information that is clearly in the public interest.”

“Canadians don’t have access to the same kind of information that Americans do and it is well past time that changed,” continued Taylor-Vaisey. “But for that to happen, the Trudeau government must resist the seductive power of secrecy – something almost no past or present government in Canada has been able to do.”

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, [email protected]; Sean Holman, CAJ vice-president, 403-397-4751 cell, [email protected]

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