Freedom of Information vs Government Secrecy

Publisher:  The Ontario Public Interest Group (OPIRG), Canada
Year Published:  1977  
Pages:  8pp  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX456

OPIRG has established Freedom of Information Documentation Centres at their Waterloo and Peterborough offices. Their purpose is to: push for strong freedom of information legislation, to educate the public about the need for freedom of information, to document cases in which government informaiton has been denied the public, and to publicize the process of freedom of information legislation in both the federal and Ontario governments.

Abstract:  OPIRG has established Freedom of Information Documentation Centres at their Waterloo and Peterborough offices. Their purpose is to: push for strong freedom of information legislation, to educate the public about the need for freedom of information, to document cases in which government informaiton has been denied the public, and to publicize the process of freedom of information legislation in both the federal and Ontario governments. OPIRG will also provide further information on the freedom on information issue and would appreciate copies of briefs and examples of requests for information from the government in which people have been denied.

This issue sheet looks at the undesirable effects that result from the current control of information by government. It begins by showing that administrative secrecy in Canada is inherited from Britan's earlier period of absolute monarchy which was passed on through the parliamentary system. The paper estimates that eighty per cent of all government documents are classified and therefore secret. This control is further enforced by the Official Secrets Act and oaths of secrecy that all civil servants must swear. This results in arbitrary denial of information which prevents informed positions and responsible participation on the part of citizens to influence decisions affecting their lives. In addition, OPIRG shows that the current government practice of selectively releasing information at specifically chosen times amounts to propaganda which aims mainly to manipulate news to enhance the government's public image. By tracing the history of Feedom of Information Legislation, OPIRG shows that the public is becoming more cynical and distrustful of government action and judges it bureaucratic, autocratic, morally bankrupt, and just plain corrupt.

The OPIRG paper is full of evidence to show that the government is not taking the question of freedom seriously. In their recent Green Paper on Freedom of Information Legislation, the government states there can be no real democracy without freedom of information while in the same breath defending the present system of secrecy. The consequences are revealing. The Ham Commission report on the Health and Safety of Workers in mines states for example that "there has been a serious lack of openness on matters of health and safety of workers. The majority of information presented in the commission was inaccessible to workers and the public. Another example was the Ontario government's attempt to hide information on mercury pollution in N.W. Ontario. One study showing the amount of pollution in the area and arguing that the companies could, but would not, comply with government regulations, was hidden for over two years until this was exposed and the government was shamed into releasing a re-written version of their own document.




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