TORONTO (May 3, 2016) – The change in federal government in 2015 marked a turning point for public opinion of freedom of expression in Canada, according to Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)’s 2016 Review of Free Expression in Canada, released today. The seventh annual report shines a spotlight on Canadians’ confidence level in the current government to protect their rights and openly communicate about issues facing the country.
In a recent poll of 1,000 Canadians across the country, CJFE found that over half (54 per cent) of Canadians trust the Liberals more than the Conservatives to strike the right balance between protecting the rights of Canadians and our need for secrecy. Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) also trust the Liberals more than the Conservatives to be open when it comes to communicating with Canadians about issues facing the government.
However, survey respondents noted a lack of transparency on the recently signed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, with a majority saying the government did a poor or very poor job of informing Canadians about the agreement and its impact, and only 9 per cent claiming it did a good or very good job. In the poll’s final question, survey respondents expressed a mixed opinion of whether the quality of information in news has improved or worsened over the past decade.
“Canadians are hopeful that the current government will be more open in its policy making,” says CJFE Executive Director Tom Henheffer. “While some trust in our representatives has been restored through actions like unmuzzling federal scientists and opening consultations on access to information, it remains a work in progress and Canadians clearly feel the government still needs more transparency on key issues.”
The Review includes a signature Report Card, grading Canadian institutions and their handling of free expression issues. While last year’s report card included many failing grades, 2016 shows improvements for access to information, digital surveillance legislation and freedom of expression for federal scientists, with promises from the government to bring considerable change. However, many of the issues require significant work, and we have seen little action on the promises so far.
Report Card grades include:
C-: for Bill C-51. The Liberal government has promised to begin widespread, public consultations to amend the most troubling sections of this problematic legislation (which CJFE and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have challenged as unconstitutional). However, the specifics of the consultation process and potential changes are vague, and there are reports that intelligence agencies are pushing back against the reining-in of their powers.
C-: for access to information. The federal government’s announcement of a much-needed in-depth review of the Access to Information Act marks a positive step, but Canadians will have to wait two years for this to occur, while the government continues to make missteps along the way.
F: for protection of whistleblowers. While protections for government whistleblowers exist on paper, the tribunal system has been ineffective in practice, and the government has shown no interest in reforming it. Canada’s lack of whistleblower protections in the private sector has also created a climate of fear of reporting wrongdoing.
D: for Montreal police attacks on the press. Journalists covering protests in Montreal have been facing harsh treatment at the hands of the police, including equipment destruction and arbitrary detention, but a meeting between representatives from CJFE, the police and journalists has led to promising dialogue and action to cease the violent clashes.
- A+: for anti-SLAPP in Ontario. 2016 saw a great victory with the passage of Ontario’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) legislation. The law protects journalists, activists and other citizens from being hit with frivolous, expensive lawsuits by deep-pocketed businesses and individuals, allowing all Ontarians to feel safer speaking truth to power.
The Review is launched 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 over the course of the year, and examines trends, breakthroughs and obstacles to freedom of expression in Canada. In-depth analyses will continue to be published on the Review’s digital space throughout the year.
For a copy of the Review, please visit CJFE.org/2016review.
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
Nanos conducted a hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,000 Canadians between March 31st and April 4th, 2016, as part of an omnibus survey. Participants were randomly recruited by telephone using live agents and administered a survey online. The sample included both land- and cell-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. Charts may not add up to 100 due to rounding.
For more information and to request interviews, please contact:
Executive Director, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
(416) 515-9622, ext. 226
Campaigns and Advocacy Coordinator, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
(416) 515-9622, ext. 262