Stephen Harper and his Conservative government get a big fat "F" for restricting information to the public by invoking national security at "the drop of a hat," an advocacy group says.
The criticism is contained in the inaugural edition of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression's " Free Expression Review." Released today, on World Press Freedom Day, it provides a report card on how government and other institutions have handled press freedom over the last year.
The cover of the document says it all – it is designed to look exactly like the redacted documents the government has released publicly under criticism by opposition parties for not providing information about the Afghan detainee controversy. The documents are so heavily blacked out that they are useless.
"We remain bedevilled by the antics of those federal entities that invoke national security at the drop of a hat to restrict the dissemination of vital information to journalists and, in turn, the public," the CJFE says.
The Conservative government is under fire for its control and secrecy. This has been a constant theme of the opposition during Mr. Harper's tenure despite promises over the years of access reforms, accountability and transparency. In fact, just last week, the Speaker of the House of Commons gave the government an ultimatum: it and the opposition parties have two weeks to find a solution to releasing the secret detainee documents or the government risks being in held contempt of Parliament.
The report notes, too, that the government has not been forthcoming when it comes to releasing information under access-to-information legislation. In fact, the CJFE is asking the Harper government to reform access laws, which it argues are behind those in Pakistan, India and Mexico.
"In short, Mr. Harper, make the Access to Information Act a freedom of information act. Give us our free right to our own information, paid for with our taxes and accumulated by bureaucrats and politicians whom we have hired to serve us and not their own interests."
Conversely, the organization gives an "A" grade to the Supreme Court of Canada for its rulings on defamation, which created a new legal defence and gave greater protection to journalists.
"Though still not as protective as the American model, the defence allows Canadian journalists to escape liability if they can show they diligently attempted to prove the facts," journalists Terry Gould and Bob Carty write.