Sunday, May 15, 2005

Alberta government wins fifth annual CAJ Code of Silence Award

From: Canadian Association of Journalists — - News Releases

Attention News Editors:

Alberta government wins fifth annual CAJ Code of Silence Award

WINNIPEG, May 14 /CNW/ - The Government of Alberta has been named the
winner of the Canadian Association of Journalists' fifth annual Code of
Silence Award recognizing the most secretive government body in Canada.

Premier Ralph Klein's Conservative government denied journalists and opposition parties access to public documents on the use of a government plane until after the 2004 provincial election. The Edmonton Journal filed a Freedom of Information request with Alberta Infrastructure, which waited six months, until two days after the provincial election, to release the documents.

"This year was exceptionally tough because all the finalists tried so hard to keep journalists in the dark," said CAJ President Paul Schneidereit.

"The Alberta government squeaked by with an astonishingly brazen performance by Premier Ralph Klein and his supporting cast. Ralph, the Code of Silence has landed."

The Journal's resulting four-part series showed the air transportation service was used like a private taxi company by Klein and his ministers, with virtually no oversight. An FOI commissioner has ordered a public hearing into how the government processed the newspaper's FOI request.

Other deserving finalists for the fifth annual Code of Silence Award included:

- The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, for its raid of Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill's Ottawa home while executing search warrants under the Security of Information Act.

- The British Columbia government, for a series of actions that have undermined the province's freedom of information laws.

- The federal Treasury Board and Liberal government, for their collective foot-dragging on comprehensive, effective whistleblower legislation.
- The Ontario Attorney General, for withholding court records from the public without explanation.

The award strives to ensure that those who work hardest to uphold a strict code of silence in dealing with journalists and the public receive appropriate recognition.

The list of finalists is based on nominations from journalists and the public.

Last year's winner was Health Canada, for denying meaningful access to a database of prescription drugs that could harm or even kill Canadians. A parliamentary all-party standing committee on health eventually slammed the department for failing to effectively protect Canadians. Health Canada finally relented more than five years after it was challenged.

Prior winners also include the Nova Scotia government for a year-long pattern of secrecy, including instituting the highest fees in the country for access to information requests; the federal Department of Justice for giving itself the power to override the Access to Information Act and withhold any information relating to international relations, national security or defence it deems sensitive; and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment for withholding information about the Walkerton water tragedy that claimed seven lives and sickened thousands more following contamination of the town's water system.

The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization with more than 1,400 members across Canada. The CAJ's primary roles are public interest advocacy work and quality professional development for journalists.

For further information: Paul Schneidereit, CAJ president,
(613) 290-2903; John Dickins, CAJ executive director, (613) 290-2903