Liberals shoot the messenger

Open Government Canada's position on the Information Commissioner's 1999-2000 report.

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OTTAWA, Oct. 17 /CNW/ - The Chretien government is showing contempt for Canadians by attacking the office that helps them find out what their government is doing, says Open Government Canada.

"Chretien talks a lot about openness, but when people who work for him are threatening Information Commission staff, it's clear he really doesn't want anyone to know what he's up to," said Leacy O'Brien, OGC's president.

Canada's Information Commissioner John Reid yesterday released a scathing report on what he called "a right under siege." The report, an annual assessment of the federal access to information act, was entitled "Mayday, mayday." It asserted "There is a full counterattack in progress against the office of the Information Commissioner."

Reid reports that civil servants working to reduce government secrecy have had their careers threatened and his office has been starved for funds and forced to use its limited resources in fighting off spurious court challenges from government bodies.

OGC believes that this report should raise the alarm about what the Chretien government has in mind for Canada's right to know legislation.

The chances of future improved openness dimmed considerably in August when Justice Minister Anne McLellan and President of the Treasury Board Lucienne Robillard established an all-bureaucrat Access to Information Review Task Force.

"While OGC welcomes a review of the federal legislation, a closed-door, internal task force led by two of the agencies singled out by the Information Commissioner for their hostility towards the public's right to know completely undermines this review's credibility," said O'Brien.

"Such a review is more likely to entrench and perpetuate government secrecy. In light of the Information Commissioner's Report, an open, public review of the Access to information Act is now an urgent priority," she added.

It will take tough new legislation to shatter the culture of secrecy that allows bureaucrats to hide and dissemble and attack fellow bureaucrats who try to obey the law, says Rob Cribb, an OGC board member and vice-president of the Canadian Association of Journalists.

"Canadians are tired of having information of public interest locked away in government file cabinets by bureaucrats more concerned with protecting themselves and their bosses than serving the people who pay them," he said. "Equally troubling is evidence that bureaucratic fear of access requests has led to a record keeping crisis that threatens not only today's access to information but tomorrow's history. The code of silence that continues to reign in Ottawa is not only offensive, it is a threat to democracy."

Open Government Canada is a national coalition of academics, lawyers, librarians, journalists, non-profit groups and citizens fighting government secrecy and pushing for greater access to public information.

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