Federal Government receives failing grade as freedom of expression in Canada declines

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression launches fifth Review of Free Expression in Canada TORONTO (April 30, 2014) In the last year, Canadians have lost even more ground in one of the fundamental elements of free expression – the ability to know what their government is doing and why. According to Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)’s 2014 Review of Free Expression in Canada, released today, the problem is widespread. From the use of new technologies for surveillance of citizens to the lack of protection of whistleblowers who call out unethical and potentially harmful activity, to the difficulties faced by those working through Access to Information red tape, free expression in Canada is deteriorating. In a recent poll, CJFE found that 54 per cent of Canadians disagreed or somewhat disagreed when asked whether they had more access to government information now than in the past, conflicting with the current federal government’s assertions that it is the most transparent to date1. Yet even if Canadians suspected the government was monitoring their communications (telephone, email and social media), 60 per cent said they would still not change the content of these communications. “Since the first Review launched five years ago, troubling issues continue to affect our right to free expression in this country,” says CJFE President Arnold Amber. “The federal access to information system is still in crisis; would-be whistleblowers still lack protections; and debates continue to grow over digital rights, Internet access and media business models. Earlier worries about government and corporate use of new technologies for surveillance of citizens have escalated to become a chorus of alarm bells.” The Review includes a signature Report Card, grading Canadian institutions and their handling of free expression issues impacting the country. This year, the federal access to information system receives a failing grade for an increase in complaints about delays and missing records, while Canadian whistleblowers Edgar Schmidt and Sylvie Therrien are granted top grades for their personal and professional sacrifices. Other Report Card grades include: •B for Anti-SLAPP legislation in Ontario. Ontario’s provincial government has introduced Bill 83, which would make it more difficult to bring frivolous lawsuits against people speaking out on a matter of public interest. However, the bill has yet to pass. All three political parties have indicated support for Bill 83, but there is no guarantee that support will stand thanks to outside lobbying and the threat of an election. •Incomplete for the RCMP. Access to information complaints against the RCMP tripled between 2011 and 2013. The RCMP access to information office is so understaffed that it cannot even acknowledge the receipt of requests, let alone respond to them, within the 30 days required by law. •F for federal government transparency in Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. One of the most concerning provisions in this agreement would require Internet service providers to act as copyright monitors, monitoring and filtering user content and Internet access. Canada would have to change its legal framework to align with that of the U.S., which could require amending regulations for patents, copyright and fair use, with severe implications for the freedom to publish and access information. “Now, more than ever, we are convinced of the need for the Review of Free Expression in Canada and of the urgency with which we must fight for our right to free expression,” added Amber. “This is a critical issue, yet many Canadians don’t realize how much this basic freedom is at risk in this country. In fact, Canada ranks 56th on the Global Right to Information Index, placing the country in the bottom 50 per cent of countries that have adopted a national right to information law.” The 48-page Review is released each year to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, celebrated annually on May 3. The only publication of its kind, the Review looks at the most pressing issues of free expression in the last year, analyzes the results of major court cases and examines trends, breakthroughs and obstacles. The Review of Free Expression in Canada was made possible through the generosity of many donors, volunteers and contributors and through the invaluable support of the Canadian Media Guild, CWA/SCA Canada, Ad IDEM, the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, The Globe and Mail, Juniper Park, and Transcontinental. For a copy of the Review, please visit CJFE.org/2014review. About CJFE CJFE monitors, defends and reports on free expression and access to information in Canada and abroad. Rooted in the field of journalism, we promote a free media as essential to a fair and open society. CJFE boldly champions the free expression rights of all people, and encourages and supports individuals and groups in the protection of their own and others' free expression rights. cjfe.org 1Nanos Research conducted a national random telephone survey of 1,000 Canadians between March 6 and 12, 2014. The sample included both land lines and cellphone lines across Canada. The margin of error for a random survey of 1,000 Canadians is ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding. -30- For more information and to request interviews, please contact: Tom Henheffer Executive Director, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (416) 515-9622, x. 226 thenheffer@cjfe.org

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