Monthly Archives: October 2018

TWIN FREEDOMS SPEECH

Speaking to the Canadian Bar Association, Justice Minister John Turner advocated for privacy and freedom of information. (Image by Government of Canada)

September 2, 1969 – Having advocated for freedom of information in an interview with the Globe and Mail, Justice Minister John Turner would elaborate on that concept in a speech  to the Canadian Bar Association.1John Turner, “Twin Freedoms: The Right to Know and the Right to Privacy” (address, Annual Meeting of the Canadian Bar Association, Ottawa, ON, September 2, 1969). The coverage of that speech focused on the minister’s announcement that the government would introduce legislation prohibiting wiretapping and electronic surveillance techniques, something he won plaudits for among pundits. For example, in an editorial, the Brandon Sun wrote that that legislation “could be among the most important accomplishments of the Trudeau government, a major step toward the just society.”2Editorial, “This Could Be the Just Society,” Brandon Sun, September 4, 1969.

But, in the same speech, Turner also acknowledged “there is a tendency in government to refuse information to its citizens under the guise of privacy which is disguised as the public interest. Government secrecy is sometimes legitimated as the state’s right to privacy, but it may well be a denial of the public’s right to know. If individual privacy is a foundation of democracy, the citizen’s right to know is fundamental to any participatory democracy. The public cannot be expected to dialogue meaningfully – still less decide – if it is refused the very information which would make such a dialogue and decision-making possible.”3John Turner, “Twin Freedoms: The Right to Know and the Right to Privacy” (address, Annual Meeting of the Canadian Bar Association, Ottawa, ON, September 2, 1969).

This post is part of a series of articles documenting major events in the history of freedom of information in Canada. To see the complete version of that developing timeline, click here.

References   [ + ]

1, 3. John Turner, “Twin Freedoms: The Right to Know and the Right to Privacy” (address, Annual Meeting of the Canadian Bar Association, Ottawa, ON, September 2, 1969).
2. Editorial, “This Could Be the Just Society,” Brandon Sun, September 4, 1969.

TURNER PUSHES FOR FOI LAW

John Turner announcing his candidacy for the Liberal Party of Canada. (Photograph courtesy of Duncan Cameron, Library and Archives Canada)

July 15, 1969 – John Turner is now perhaps best known for his relationship with Princess Margaret and, as prime minister and leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, losing the 1984 election to Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney. But, in 1969, he was the Grits’ golden boy and making a name for himself as the federal government’s justice minister. One way he did that was by advocating for freedom of information.

In an interview about wiretapping with a Globe and Mail reporter, Turner said, “I do not think you can have a right-to-privacy statute without at the same time having a freedom of information statute. In other words, I think it ought to be incumbent upon the state to publish more information about what goes on at both the provincial and federal levels. I would like to see freedom of information dealt with at the same time as right to privacy, as companion pieces of legislation.”1William Morris, “Views on a New Law to Protect Privacy: Wiretapping and Bail,” Globe and Mail, July 15, 1969.

The newspaper supported that proposal in an editorial, writing that it was a “very importance concept for the Justice Minister to espouse” because “Canadian governments have been notoriously secretive about information that ought to be in the public domain.”2Editorial, “Minister with a Philosophy,” Globe and Mail, July 15, 1969. Nor would it be the last time Turner spoke out against secrecy.

This post is part of a series of articles documenting major events in the history of freedom of information in Canada. To see the complete version of that developing timeline, click here.

References   [ + ]

1. William Morris, “Views on a New Law to Protect Privacy: Wiretapping and Bail,” Globe and Mail, July 15, 1969.
2. Editorial, “Minister with a Philosophy,” Globe and Mail, July 15, 1969.

STUDY PUSHES FOR INFO RIGHT

An illustration from the Task Force on Government Information’s final report, To Know and Be Known. (Graphic by Government of Canada)

November 4, 1969 – When the Task Force on Government Information released its final report, much of the coverage focused on its proposal to establish a “central government agency of information resources and technical services.”1Canada, Task Force on Government Information, To Know and Be Know, vol. 1 (Ottawa, ON: Task Force on Government Information, 1969), 55. That agency, which the task force dubbed “Information Canada,” was variously described in the news media as a “supermouth,”2Editorial, “First-Rate Expose – But Next?” Globe and Mail, November 6, 1969. “a huge, computerized and streamlined public relations agency,”3Arthur Blakely, “Trudeau Approves Information Plan,” Gazette (Montreal), November 6, 1969. and an indication that “the year ’1984’ appears to be closer than most Canadians appreciate.”4Editorial, “New Bureaucracy is Not Needed,” Edmonton Journal, November 6, 1969.

However,  the task force was also an unlikely early advocate of freedom of information, recommending that “the right of Canadians to full, objective and timely information and the obligation of the States to provide such information” might be “comprehended within a new constitution in the context of freedom of expression.”5Canada, Task Force on Government Information, To Know and Be Know, vol. 1 (Ottawa, ON: Task Force on Government Information, 1969), 56.

In addition, according to columnist Anthony Westell, one of the most “provocative ideas” to percolate in its private sessions was the establishment of an “ombudsman to safeguard public access to facts the government might prefer to keep private. As originally discussed, the official would have been dignified with the title of Information Commissioner and given something of the same independent relationship to government as that enjoyed by the auditor-general.”6Anthony Westell, “So Much for that Watchdog,” Edmonton Journal, November 13, 1969. However, Westell wrote that the idea “was diluted somewhere in the process of discussion, decision and revision leading to the final report of the task force.”7Anthony Westell, “So Much for that Watchdog,” Edmonton Journal, November 13, 1969.

This post is part of a series of articles documenting major events in the history of freedom of information in Canada. To see the complete version of that developing timeline, click here.

References   [ + ]

1. Canada, Task Force on Government Information, To Know and Be Know, vol. 1 (Ottawa, ON: Task Force on Government Information, 1969), 55.
2. Editorial, “First-Rate Expose – But Next?” Globe and Mail, November 6, 1969.
3. Arthur Blakely, “Trudeau Approves Information Plan,” Gazette (Montreal), November 6, 1969.
4. Editorial, “New Bureaucracy is Not Needed,” Edmonton Journal, November 6, 1969.
5. Canada, Task Force on Government Information, To Know and Be Know, vol. 1 (Ottawa, ON: Task Force on Government Information, 1969), 56.
6, 7. Anthony Westell, “So Much for that Watchdog,” Edmonton Journal, November 13, 1969.

FEDS LAUNCH INFO STUDY

An illustration from the Task Force on Government Information’s final report, To Know and Be Known. (Graphic by Government of Canada)

August 30, 1968 – Amidst concerns about his government’s secrecy,1Anthony Westell, “The New Game in Ottawa is – I’ve Got a Secret,” Globe and Mail, July 11, 1968. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau announced the appointment of the Task Force on Government Information. Trudeau said the task force would make recommendations to “promote greater efficiency in the diffusion”2Editorial, “One Countervailing Force,” Globe and Mail, August 31, 1968. of that information. It was chaired by d’Iberville Fortier, a long-time friend of Trudeau and former chief information officer for the Department of External Affairs.3The Canadian Press, “Trudeau Names 5 to Undertake Study,” Toronto Daily Star, August 30, 1968. It’s other two members were former journalists Bernard Ostry and Thomas Ford.4The Canadian Press, “Trudeau Names 5 to Undertake Study,” Toronto Daily Star, August 30, 1968. Ironically, news about the task force’s appointment was the Trudeau government’s first major leak.5Editorial, “One Countervailing Force,” Globe and Mail, August 31, 1968. Prime Minister Lester Pearson had launched a similar study headed by former La Presse news editor Jean David, who had been a president of the Young Liberal Association of Canada.6“Jean David,” Gazette, January 2, 1968. However, that study ended when David died in a car accident.7Special to the Ottawa Citizen, “Man Dead in Five-Car Road Crash,” Ottawa Citizen, December 30, 1967.

This post is part of a series of articles documenting major events in the history of freedom of information in Canada. To see the complete version of that developing timeline, click here.

References   [ + ]

1. Anthony Westell, “The New Game in Ottawa is – I’ve Got a Secret,” Globe and Mail, July 11, 1968.
2, 5. Editorial, “One Countervailing Force,” Globe and Mail, August 31, 1968.
3, 4. The Canadian Press, “Trudeau Names 5 to Undertake Study,” Toronto Daily Star, August 30, 1968.
6. “Jean David,” Gazette, January 2, 1968.
7. Special to the Ottawa Citizen, “Man Dead in Five-Car Road Crash,” Ottawa Citizen, December 30, 1967.

ROWAT PRESENTS SEMINAL FOI PAPER

Political scientist Donald Rowat questioned whether Canada’s tradition of administrative secrecy “conforms with the requirements of modern democracy.” (Image by Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science)

June 12, 1965 – Carleton University political science professor Donald Rowat presented his seminal paper on government secrecy in Canada at the annual meetings of the Canadian Political Science Association.1Ruth Worth, “Professor Urges End to Secrecy in Government,” Globe and Mail, 1968. In that paper, Rowat wrote, “Since the principle of secrecy in the British parliamentary system has been imbibed with our mother’s milk, so to speak, we find it hard to believe that a country can get along with it.”2Donald Rowat, “How Much Administrative Secrecy?” Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 31, no. 4 (November 1965): 488. Yet both Sweden and the United States had. That is why Rowat commended and endorsed New Democrat MP Barry Mather’s freedom of information bill. 3Donald Rowat, “How Much Administrative Secrecy?” Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 31, no. 4 (November 1965): 491. Rowat would be an inspiration for Mather.4Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, Debates, 1st sess., vol. 1 (1968): 1167. And Progressive Conservative MP Gerald Baldwin, the “father and grandfather”5“Gerald W. Baldwin, O.C., Q.C., LL.D.,” Governor General of Canada, updated March 26, 2018, http://archive.gg.ca/honours/search-recherche/honours-desc.asp?lang=e&TypeID=orc&id=70. of the Access to Information Act, would describe him as “one of the real pioneers of open government.”6Gerald Baldwin, “Why Should We Tell You?” (unpublished manuscript, August 1, 1983).

This post is part of a series of articles documenting major events in the history of freedom of information in Canada. To see the complete version of that developing timeline, click here.

References   [ + ]

1. Ruth Worth, “Professor Urges End to Secrecy in Government,” Globe and Mail, 1968.
2. Donald Rowat, “How Much Administrative Secrecy?” Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 31, no. 4 (November 1965): 488.
3. Donald Rowat, “How Much Administrative Secrecy?” Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 31, no. 4 (November 1965): 491.
4. Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, Debates, 1st sess., vol. 1 (1968): 1167.
5. “Gerald W. Baldwin, O.C., Q.C., LL.D.,” Governor General of Canada, updated March 26, 2018, http://archive.gg.ca/honours/search-recherche/honours-desc.asp?lang=e&TypeID=orc&id=70.
6. Gerald Baldwin, “Why Should We Tell You?” (unpublished manuscript, August 1, 1983).

ACCESS TO INFORMATION ACT TIMELINE

This page from the House of Commons Debates Official Report shows the introduction of Bill C-39, NDP MP Barry Mather’s proposed administrative disclosure law. (Image by Library of Parliament)

The history of the Access to Information Act, the law that allows Canadians to obtain internal government records that might otherwise remain secret, isn’t well-known. So, as part of my dissertation research, I’ll be building a detailed timeline of that history – both for my own reference, as well as for those who are interested in the legislation. I’m pleased to share with you my first entry:

April 8, 1965 – New Democrat Barry Mather, a former Vancouver Sun humour columnist, became the first MP to introduce a freedom of information bill in the House of Commons.1Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, Debates, 26th Parl., 3d sess., vol. 1 (1965): 92. The bill didn’t make it to second reading. So we don’t know what Mather would have said about it in the House if it had. But the Canadian Press paraphrased him as saying it was based on similar legislation in the United States, which would become law the following year.2The Canadian Press, “MP Proposes Bill to Make Records Open,” Globe and Mail, April 14, 1965. “This bill is in aid of the public’s right to know in what manner a government is administering the public duties entrusted and delegated to it by the people,” he said. “The bill enacts the basic parliamentary rule that public affairs must be conducted publicly.”3The Canadian Press, “MP Proposes Bill to Make Records Open,” Globe and Mail, April 14, 1965. In an editorial, the Globe and Mail endorsed that legislation, calling on the government to “put its blessings on the bill and ensure its passage.”4Editorial, “It’s is the Public’s Business,” Globe and Mail, April 16, 1965. But it would be another 18 years before the Access to Information Act would come into force.

As the timeline develops, you’ll be able to see the complete version here.

References   [ + ]

1. Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, Debates, 26th Parl., 3d sess., vol. 1 (1965): 92.
2, 3. The Canadian Press, “MP Proposes Bill to Make Records Open,” Globe and Mail, April 14, 1965.
4. Editorial, “It’s is the Public’s Business,” Globe and Mail, April 16, 1965.