Hi there! Welcome to the first edition of the Secret Canada newsletter. Unlike most Globe and Mail newsletters, this one’s sent out intermittently, depending on developments in our ongoing investigation into Canada’s freedom-of-information systems.
This is Tom Cardoso – I’m half of the reporting team working on Secret Canada, along with my colleague Robyn Doolittle. We’ve spent more than 20 months examining Canada’s broken freedom-of-information systems.
It’s been a busy month for us. Since we began publishing our investigation in early June, we have:
- Published 12 investigative pieces and news stories (that’s a story every three days, give or take!).
- Launched SecretCanada.com, with educational resources and a searchable database of more than 300,000 completed FOI requests at all levels of government – the culmination of more than a year of work by a dedicated team of designers, developers, editors and data journalists.
- Recorded two episodes of The Decibel, The Globe’s daily news podcast.
- Published more than a dozen blog posts to our behind-the-scenes FOI news outlet at www.secretcanada.com/news.
- Answered dozens of questions from curious Canadians for an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit.
- Heard from lawyers, academics, business owners, concerned citizens and others about their own FOI experiences.
We created this newsletter for you, the avid consumer of FOI-related news. In future editions we’ll tell you about the latest stories in our Secret Canada series, share exclusive details on updates to the SecretCanada.com website, give you a behind-the-scenes look at our reporting and share correspondence from readers.
P.S. We may or may not also be giving away a few limited-edition Secret Canada-branded tote bags. Read on for information on how to snag your own!
What is Secret Canada again? And what have you reported so far?
Secret Canada is The Globe and Mail’s 20-months-in-the-making investigation into Canada’s broken freedom-of-information systems. There are two parts to this project: The first is the ongoing series of deeply-reported investigative stories by Robyn and me. The second is a specially-built website, SecretCanada.com, that has a searchable database of summaries for the hundreds of thousands of FOIs that have been filed across the country, along with detailed guides that will teach you how to file FOIs of your own.
Here’s a brief list of some of our most in-depth pieces so far:
- Our first piece, a deep-dive into Canada’s complicated, decaying freedom of information systems
- A behind-the-scenes look at why Robyn and I felt we had to tackle this topic
- This profile of Dr. Brooks Fallis, an Ontario-based physician who has used FOI to understand why he was fired from a hospital
- We dive into why the federal access to information system has been hijacked by requests for immigration information
- A look at how Newfoundland and Labrador, a province of 530,000 people, ended up with the best FOI system in the country
We’re also writing more informal, blog-like content on the Secret Canada news page. Our posts so far include Q&As with experts and other high-profile public officials with astute insights on FOI, how-tos on filing specific types of FOI requests, case studies and more.
Robyn and I are preparing to file a new round of several hundred FOI requests to public bodies across the country, which we’ll use to update our database of completed requests. We’ll start dropping requests in the mail later this month. (Sorry, FOI offices!)
We also have much more news coverage planned – stay tuned for more on this in the next few months.
From the reporters’ notebook
I’ve worked as an investigative reporter long enough to know that every project has its fair share of “what-the-heck moments.” Secret Canada is no different. Here’s my colleague Robyn, talking about what was involved with filing an FOI to the Sarnia Police Service:
For me, the most memorable-slash-ridiculous moment of this investigation came when the Sarnia Police Service told me I would have to pay the $5 FOI application fee in cash. Moreover, it had to be paid in person. Luckily, I’d grown up near Sarnia and my parents still live there. So I phoned my mom and she did what moms do: She saved the day by going to the station to pay the fee. She did decline my request to take a photo of the handoff. (Incidentally, the Sarnia police weren’t the only institution to demand FOI fees in cash, but they were the only ones that required it to be in person.)
I wrote about some of the other hall-of-fame responses to our requests several weeks back. Take a look.
Do you like tote bags?
How big of an FOI nerd are you? If you’ve read this far into a newsletter about freedom of information in Canada, the answer is almost certainly a big one.
To celebrate the launch of the Secret Canada website, the team ordered a small batch of special FOI-themed tote bags, and had some to sell directly to readers at cost. They were snapped up almost immediately by citizens, lawyers, academics, journalists and even political staffers (!) – but we have a few left, and we want to give them to you. We need your help to spread the word that it’s time to fix Canada’s broken freedom-of-information regime.
We’ve running a special contest for these very exclusive, limited-edition “It’s Your Right To Know” tote bags.
If you’d like to enter the draw, all you need to do is follow Secret Canada on Instagram at @secretcanadafoi and tag one or more friends in the comments of our tote bag giveaway post. When the contest closes on July 31, 2023, at 11:59 p.m. ET, we’ll pick two lucky followers.
From the manila envelope
Since this is our first edition, we don’t yet have reader correspondence to share. Instead, I wanted to close this e-mail with a question: Have you ever tried to access public records, either through an FOI or otherwise? What did you ask for, and how did that go? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we may include your answer in the next edition of this newsletter.
Until next time,