The Ottawa Police Service has been named as the recipient of the 2020 Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy in the law enforcement category. 

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) is being recognized for its complete and utter violation of both the spirit and intent of Freedom of Information legislation. As reported in The Ottawa Citizen, a grieving family applied to the Ottawa Police Service, under Ontario’s Freedom of Information law, for a copy of an “accident reconstruction report” that could have helped explain to them why a family member died tragically in a pedestrian road incident. 

The OPS acknowledged the report was available, but would only release it to the family if they paid a fee of nearly $2,500. The reason reported for this exorbitant fee was not to process and compile the report but for the OPS to recoup the cost of creating a report that was required in the normal course of their investigation. 

“This case is an absolute travesty of the freedom of information system,” said James Turk, director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University. 

“Having a police force attempt to pass on the costs of conducting an investigation, which they were already obliged to do, to a grieving family is beyond the pale. It really makes me question who the police force is working to serve.” 

The Code of Silence Awards are presented annually by The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ); the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University (CFE); News Media Canada; and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE). 

The intent of the awards is to call public attention to government or publicly funded agencies that work hard to hide information to which the public has a right under access to information legislation.

Last year, police forces in Sudbury, Ont., Windsor, Ont., Peterborough, Ont., Longueuil, QC., Quebec City, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, and the Ontario Provincial Police shared the distinction. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has also been recognized for its unwillingness, or inability, to readily provide information to the public mandated under the federal Access to Information Act. 

The 2020 Code of Silence Awards have also recognized:

  • The Federal Cabinet for suppressing public access to details about very large loans – at times amounting to billions of dollars – given to corporations out of the public purse; 
  • Quebec’s Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks for its unwillingness to share lab data with scientists at Environment Canada related to four mysterious fish kills;
  • The City of North Bay, Ont., for repeatedly circumventing basic transparency and accountability measures expected of democratic governments. 

Nominations for next year’s Code of Silence Awards 2021 can be made until October 30, 2021, by completing the nomination form available here.  

For further information, please contact:  

James Turk, 

Director, Centre for Free Expression

Faculty of Communications and Design, Ryerson University


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