'A free society requires access to the facts' - Macleans.ca

‘A free society requires access to the facts’


In response to an attempt by a government official to save the Canadian Press a few dollars on reprinting costs, Jack Layton attempts to explain the riddle that is access to information.

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jack Layton highlighted the problems within the federal Access to Information regime by releasing two copies a memo from diplomat Richard Colvin on the subject of Afghan detainees. Only a few words were redacted in the memo as it was publicly released by the Attorney-General to the Military Police Complaints Commission. But, when released by the Department of National Defence under Access to Information legislation, it was redacted almost in its entirety…

“A free society requires access to the facts. That’s fundamental. And the government can’t simply say we are going to protect ourselves by building walls around the truth. That’s not right. And [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper used to say that but then again he used to say a lot of things.”

That memo in its dueling forms can be viewed here and here.


‘A free society requires access to the facts’

  1. So maybe the issue is DND….

    DND are the ones who had change their story.

    If the government prorogued over this issue one reason might be that the politicians arent sure what happened and dont trust DND on this issue. Some reporter wrot an insight some time ago, likely after O Connor got his butt handed to him, that the military is loyal only itself in these matters and will hang any minister or government out to dry.

    But of course it is easier just to say Harper has committed war crimes.

    • Okay Vince, let's suspend our disbelief to Avatar levels and say that DND was covering it all up from the Ministers and the PMO and aren't trustworthy, what the hell is the government doing about that?! Where's the action to rein in the rogue military bureaucrats? When are the ADMs and Generals being fired?

      But of course, it's easier just to blame bureaucrats than actually govern.

      • So explain the difference in the memos. Do you actually think the minister goes through those things with a black felt marker….it happens within the department.

        I am just looking at evidence….the COD Staff is the one who had to change his story, after he told the minister otherwise. I am not trying to defend Mackay or the government….identify the problem first. Of course the problem may already have left the scene (Hillier)…maybe…..I am just saying you need to consider all possibilities here, and the one thing that has puzzled me most here is the governments shifting story. Now, this government is usually pretty well disciplined on this stuff…and they came out pretty hard….and then they started to move off the position or change. And they looked undercut, and yes thats a problem on the governments part as well.

        It was the shift on natynchyck (sp?) position that first made me wonder, this adds weight to that argument. The argument that maybe DND isnt feeding the right, or full story up the line. I dont know what happened…we will see, but is it really that that surprising that DND doesnt disclose everything. Its a club and even their civilian masters arent part of it.

        • I don't have an explanation because I don't have access to the rest of the documents. But the Conservatives do and they're sitting on the information, refusing to take action and refusing to let anyone else find out.

          I'll give it to you that it's a tough choice for the Conservatives between confessing the coverup and lies or admitting to such colossal ineptitude they didn't know what was going on for 4 years. If they don't pick one soon, we'll have to assume it's a combination of the two.

          • LOL, well talk about Laytonesque like premise, are you incompetent or are you lying. It sure feeds debate.

            So lets see what happens when Parliament returns. The question wasnt goign to go away, and wont go away…and I doubt the government felt it would, but who knows. But what I am saying is that perhaps the story they thought was there wasnt really there, it would explain a lot….but this is speculation. It isnt blaming the bureacracy to acknowledge they hold info and carry out policy. It also isnt incompetence if the responisble minister isnt told (not saying he wasnt) but it is if he doesnt hold those within the bureacracy to their responsibilities. I dont know, and on this issue anyone claiming certainty should be viewed with some skepticism.

  2. it seems to me that it would be valuable to have some sort of baseline as to what we consider to be an acceptable or desirable standard of information sharing for 'good governance' that the performance of governments can be assessed against. not sure exactly what indicators one would configure to create such a standard or what assessment mechanism would be most suitable (number of requests declined unto itself is not sufficient; differences in redaction behaviour would be great as part of this but short of the creation of an independent ATI review apparatus is not workable) off the top of my head….but a few things are clear:

    1) Layton is right that information is foundational to good governance and accountability;

    2) successive Canadian governments have not satisfied most (somewhat) objective observers with their respective records; and,

    3) talking about poor performance on ATI fulfillment and transparency more generally is general terms have not moved us closer to something more acceptable (whatever that is).

    of course, some people have already done some great work in the area of transparency and ATI including Alisdair Roberts (among others) but we seem to lack a commonly upheld touchstone. maybe we can create one here is the comments????

  3. The DND redactions seem nonsensical. Comparing the lightly redacted memo to the heavily redacted memo, I can't see any legitimate reason why the DND would redact that memo almost entirely.

    • They were just erring on the side of paralytic fear.

      • It's what happens when you give a beaucrat the reverse talking stick – suddenly the number and brand of bickies consumed in the mess becomes top secret.

      • What or Who are they afraid of?

        • it is not that they are afraid (well beyond that hold parliamentary scrutiny thing), its that they want you to be afraid.

    • Yeah, but remember that the current argument of the government is that releasing these documents would put staff/informants at risk by releasing names and times of visitations. Which operates in a denial of the reality that the information necessary for purpose of the review is the observations of these people within a broad timespan within Afghanistan.

      Therefore, as long as DnD/FA assert that the documents are from that timespan and from their staff/sources/otherwise produced within their purview the who's, whens, and, to a certain degree, where's are completely unnecessary and entirely redactable by default if deemed necessary.

      We need the what's and whys.

  4. I for one am quite pleased that our government is taking security issues seriously. After all, if you only black out the sensitive parts of sensitive documents then underhanded people (typically but not always affiliated with the NDP) would be able to analyze the missing parts and altered documents. On the other hand, if you black out large sections seemingly at random then you leave them nothing to work with.

    With all of the kudos, Max received from Canada's most influential conservative thinkers on this site earlier today
    …making sure that no document has any real information in it is simply solid succession planning.

  5. Secrecy against transparency in the year 2010, two thousand years after the birth of Christ this is what you get from a government. And we keep hearing government elected by the people and for the people is what democracy is given we have to fine tune democracy like the forum on CPAC on democratisation which I feel was an immense contribution to the education of us all on government.