TORONTO, ON/Feb. 6, 2024 – The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) was extremely disappointed by Friday’s unanimous landmark decision rendered by the Supreme Court of Canada that will ensure Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s 2018 mandate letters to his then-incoming cabinet ministers will remain under lock and key.
“This entire ordeal has made a complete mockery of the idea of government’s proactively disclosing information to the public to whom they are ultimately accountable,” said Brent Jolly, CAJ president. “The decision by the Supreme Court of Canada basically gives governments a green light to keep the public in the dark.”
The decision marks an end to a long saga that began when CBC/Radio-Canada requested, under Ontario’s freedom-of-information law, copies of the mandate letters Premier Ford sent to all his cabinet ministers after winning the 2018 provincial election.
The Ford government refused to disclose the mandate letters, arguing the release of the documents would break a tradition of cabinet confidentiality. In recent years, however, several governments have chosen to proactively release mandate letters given by political leaders to members of their cabinet.
Mandate letters are strategic documents that provide cabinet ministers with a high-level overview of the government’s priorities across different portfolios.
Prior to reaching the Supreme Court of Canada, Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner and two other levels of Ontario courts supported the view that the records should be disclosed to the public.
The CAJ, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), the Centre for Free Expression at Toronto Metropolitan University (CFE), and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) were granted intervenor status in the case. As a coalition, we argued about the dangers of the broadening of the cabinet record exemption.
“Disclosing mandate letters does not impinge on Cabinet deliberations,” Jolly said. “They are ‘agenda-setting’ documents that do not shed any light on the processes used by legislators to make decisions. They help the public understand whether promises are being followed through.”
“Secrecy is a debilitating malady that afflicts, and slowly erodes, the ability for citizens to participate in their democracy. The ability to access information, and to exercise the right to know, must be upheld at all levels and institutions at all times. As the old saying goes: sunlight is the greatest disinfectant.”
The CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing 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: Brent Jolly, president, Canadian Association of Journalists, firstname.lastname@example.org