Openness and accountability takes a holiday at the Resort Municipality of Whistler — CAJ Code of Silence winners

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* This statement was amended from its original version to remove an affiliation and edit part of a quote.

OTTAWA, May 4, 2013 / CNW / The Resort Municipality of Whistler is the winner of the annual Canadian Association of Journalists’ Code of Silence Award.

The winner of this prestigious (sic) award, presented to the most secretive government or publicly funded agency, was announced Saturday night at the annual CAJ conference banquet and awards gala, held at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa. A panel of reviewers was swayed by two powerful submissions by local journalists in Whistler that tipped the scales.

Since the Vancouver Olympics, the municipality’s communications have been dammed up to the point even a trickle rarely escapes, even when media are actively poking holes to get behind the dam. Per municipal policy, the only spokespeople are the municipality’s mayor, CAO and public information officer. Experts at passing the buck, the control over information exercised in Whistler rivals that of certain federal departments and PR at the most secretive private corporations.

Here’s what Andrew Mitchell had to say about the scenario:

“The mayor (Nancy Wilhelm-Morden)… is often not fluent in the topics she is asked to discuss so details are often limited. She is ostensibly where the buck stops, but can’t reasonably be expected to provide expert details on specific areas like solid waste management or our water system.”

That a municipality, which is supposed to be Canadians’ most-accessible level of government, would use these message-control tactics to spin, obfuscate and defer its responsibility to be open, transparent and accountable flies in the face of what its ratepayers expect and deserve.

“Voters in Whistler, take note— your media are being kept from telling you what’s happening with your dollars due to these policies,” CAJ president Hugo Rodrigues said. “If you care about what Whistler is doing with your hard-earned dollars, it’s time to effect change at the ballot box so these practices get changed.”

Other worthy nominations for this year’s award included Library and Archives Canada for its code of conduct that keeps staff members from speaking at conventions; government scientists, muzzled by their political masters; the Municipality of Central Huron for discussing a journalists’ work and her potential exclusion from council meetings behind closed doors; Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for access-to-information delays; Humber River Hospital for keeping an internal report on the mis-diagnosed death of a newborn baby girl secret; Fisheries and Oceans Canada for deferring and delaying on an answer to a simple Chinook salmon question; Canada Revenue Agency for delaying and then redacting an access request on sanctions against the Toronto International Film Festival; and, Enterprise Cape Breton Corp. for its obfuscation surrounding the rebuild of the Ben Eoin Marina.

This is the 13th year the CAJ has so honoured a government or publicly funded agency for keeping secret what it should make accessible.

The CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing over 500 members across the country. The CAJ’s primary roles are to provide high-quality professional development for its members and public-interest advocacy.

For more information:
Hugo Rodrigues, CAJ president – 519-535-8680 cell, hugo@caj.ca

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