By: Lynn Desjardins
Four journalists’ organizations have presented the 2020 Code of Silence Award to the Federal Cabinet. The Cabinet is made up of ministers chosen by the prime minister to head each of the government departments. The stated aim of the award is “to call public attention to government or publicly funded agencies that work hard to hide information to which the public has a right under access to information legislation.”
The Cabinet was cited for “suppressing public access to details about very large loans–at time amounting to billions of dollars–given to corporations out of the public purse.” Specifically, the journalists noted that Canada’s auditor general examined loans to the auto sector in 2009 and found it ““impossible to gain a complete picture of the assistance provided, the difference the assistance made to the viability of the companies, and the amounts recovered and lost.” The journalists add that some of the loans were not repaid and that they were written off.
Cabinet criticized for keeping the public ‘in the dark’
The journalists also noted that $650 million from a special, so-called Canada Account was used to help General Dynamics building combat vehicles for Saudi Arabia, to advance the export of civilian aircraft by aerospace companies and to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline which transports oil products from the western province of Alberta to the Pacific coast. The Cabinet is criticized for keeping the public “in the dark about the transactions, each of which posed some risk to the federal treasury.”
The Treasury Board received a dishonourable mention for the federal Code of Silence Award for erasing thousands of Access to Information and Privacy documents which had been previously released. Summaries of documents issued before 2019 vanished.
Two ‘dishonourable mentions’ awarded
The Department of National Defense also received a dishonourable mention for proactively blocking Access to Information requests about Vice-Admiral Mark Norman by never using his name in any of its records. By using code words when referring to him they ensured that searches for information about Norman would turn up a no-records response. Norman had been accused of leaking confidential cabinet information about a multi-million dollar government contract but was later exonerated.
The Code of Silence awards are presented each year by The Canadian Association of Journalists, the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University (CFE); News Media Canada; and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE).