TORONTO, March 12 /CNW/ – Canada has a powerful new coalition dedicated to fighting for greater access to public information.
Dozens of groups and individuals representing a wide spectrum of causes met on the weekend to found Open Government Canada.
“We’re ecstatic that Canada will finally have a unified public voice demanding greater government transparency,” said Boni Fox, co-chair of the newly minted OGC and president of the Canadian Association of Journalists.
“With government secrecy on the rise, there couldn’t be a better time for such a movement.”
OGC is the new national voice for freedom of information in Canada, bringing together a coalition of individuals and organizations who use access to information legislation.
The Canadian Library Association, the Humanities and Social Sciences Federation of Canada, the Quebec Federation of Professional Journalists, the Manitoba Council of Women, the British Columbia Association of People with Disabilities, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the Canadian Newspaper Association were among more than 25 groups represented at the organization’s founding conference.
OGC aims to educate Canadians on how to use access to information legislation, which members say has been weakened by cost-cutting and privatization of traditional government functions. The coalition will push for legislation that ensures greater access.
Alasdair Roberts, a Queen’s University professor, told the inaugural group of OGC members that access rights in Canada have been eroded over the past decade.
“We have information rights because access to information is essential for the realization of basic civil and political rights,” said Roberts. “Every individual has a right to live under a system of government based on informed consent.” .
Roberts has produced several studies on Canadian freedom-of-information problems, including the 1998 paper Limited Access: Assessing the Health of Canada’s FOI Laws, which pointed out numerous disturbing trends.
“Government likes to keep its agenda secret,” said Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch. “And it doesn’t like to be held accountable when something goes wrong.”
Conacher, who’s been instrumental in organizing a coalition to shed light on the Canadian banking sector, will serve on the steering committee for the new organization.
“We have a bureaucratic culture in Canada that routinely restricts and delays the release of information with impunity,” said Robert Cribb, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, which initiated the coalition. “That translates into less accountable governments and a less informed public.”
Public information available in hours or days in the U.S. can take months to acquire in Canada because of slow-responding government departments that hide behind weak legislation.
“This is information that belongs to us and yet we often wait months and have to pay hefty fees to get access to it, when we get access at all,” said Cribb. “And at bureaucratic whim, journalists and the public are often declined information altogether.”
For further information: contact: Robert Cribb, steering committee
co-chair for Open Government Canada and vice-president of the Canadian
Association of Journalists: (416) 869-4411