• I’ve long been of the belief that information is less accessible in Canada than it is south of the border and in other parts of the Anglosphere. Certainly, that was my experience as a legislative reporter in British Columbia. And that belief is borne out by the Open Data Index, which assesses the state of open government data in 70 countries.
According to that index, Canada ranks behind nine other countries on that list including the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand and Austria. Canada’s weak points include a lack of accessibility or availability to government spending data and national statistics.
• Part of the blame for Canada’s overall lack of access to information may rest with some of the public relations professionals who work for government.
Commenting on the impact “overzealous PR practices” have had in the United States, National Press Club 2013 president Angela Greiling Keane and Society of Professional Journalists president David Cuillier, write that government agencies are “increasingly controlling what information the public receives, threatening the very foundations of democracy.”
As a result, Greiling and Cuillier have called on American elected officials to “allow journalists and the public to contact government employees directly for information without PR specialists intervening.” Such interventions are now standard practice at most public bodies in Canada.
• The adage “access delayed is access denied” has oft been repeated in reference to the months and sometimes years it takes for government agencies in Canada to respond to freedom of information requests. So it’s troubling that, thanks to a recent court ruling, those delays may soon get even longer.
The Canadian Press reports a Federal Court judge has said she can’t legally censure the Department of National Defence for giving itself a 1,110-day extension to provide records requested under the Access to Information Act.
Commenting on that ruling, Ottawa lawyer Michel Drapeau — the author of a textbook on that act — said, “A lot of champagne will be uncorked in many institutions…because they are going to say, listen, why did we only ask for 1,000 days? Next time we’ll ask for 10,000.”
• Prominent British Labour politician and reform advocate Tony Benn died last week at the age of 88. Among his most memorable quotes were his five questions for the powerful. During his final speech in the House of Commons, Benn advised that such people should be asked, “‘What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?’ If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.”
Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.