CJFE Releases Free Expression Review

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) has published its second annual report on free expression in Canada.

CJFE’s Review of Free Expression in Canada 2010/2011 highlights abuses of the rights of journalists and citizens during the G20 summit held in Toronto in June.

“What CJFE learned about the failure of security forces to recognize the valid credentials many journalists presented to the police was disturbing,” the Review says. “Journalists who had every right to be present were jailed in spite of those credentials. Ultimately, all of the journalists who were jailed were not charged, or, where charges were laid, they were later dropped.”

These and other concerns earned the government and G20 security forces an F grade in CJFE’s second annual report card.

The only lower grade, an F-, went to the federal government for its handling of access to information issues. Access to information earned a failing grade in the first report card for 2009, but the picture only worsened in the ensuing year. “It has never been harder,” the Review says, “to pry information essential to a functioning democracy out of the government bureaucracies. The past year may come to be known as the one in which evidence first appeared at the federal level of a systematic machine for politicization of the denial of information to Parliament and the electorate.”

The report card says government secrecy has worsened in the past 12 months; there are longer delays in responding to information requests and there is a dramatic decline in requestors receiving all the information they requested.

“Access to government information is not working for Canadian citizens – and it’s gotten worse under the Harper government,” says CJFE Board member and journalist Bob Carty. “We hope that now, with this majority, the prime minister will finally act to fulfill all of his 2006 election promises to reform free access to information and once again make Canada a world-class, open, transparent country.”

On the other hand, CJFE commended federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault, “a promoter of open government who shows a willingness to push the boundaries of her limited powers to produce greater access.” The report card gives Legault an A- grade, saying “the government needs more arm’s-length watchdogs like her.”

The report card gives Supreme Court of Canada a C on protection of sources for a mixed legal decision, forcing one journalist to turn his source material over but at the same time recognizing that a right to protect sources exists where the media can show it is in the public interest.

The report card gives a C- grade for protection of whistleblowers, noting on the one hand that the public sector integrity commissioner resigned after having been found to be doing practically nothing to protect whistleblowers, while on the other hand the Supreme Court of Canada recognized whistleblower protection as part and parcel of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ guarantee of freedom of expression.

Other articles in the Review include:

  • A summary of all significant legal cases regarding free expression.
  • Analysis of what went wrong for journalists’ rights at the G20 Summit, and a look forward at a landmark hate speech case.
  • Several perspectives on the state of whistleblowing, including the positive aspects of the WikiLeaks dumps, the continuing lack of protection for whistleblowers in Canada, and why we should be more like Iceland.
  • Canada’s Free Expression INDEX, which highlights some of the stats and facts from 2010/11. Here’s just one example: Number of words and phrases trademarked by the organizing committee of the 2010 Olympics, preventing their use without permission, from December 2007 to December 2010: 17.

CJFE’s Review of Free Expression in Canada will be launched at “Access Denied,” a free event in Toronto on May 10, 2011, at the NOW Lounge. The event will delve into one of Canada’s most problematic free expression issues: our diminishing right to access of information. The panel will feature John Reid, former Information Commissioner of Canada; Paula Todd, lawyer and investigative journalist with CTV’s W5; and Dean Beeby, The Canadian Press Deputy Bureau Chief in Ottawa, and will be moderated by Anna Maria Tremonti, host of CBC Radio One’s The Current. For more information, visit www.cjfepanel.eventbrite.com.