9 May 2012

Canada once again gets failing grade in free expression

CJFE gives Canada a failing grade for its policy that bars federally funded scientists from talking to the media
CJFE gives Canada a failing grade for its policy that bars federally funded scientists from talking to the media
Chaiwat Subprasom/REUTERS

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In the free expression world, Canada receives failing grades for the way it muzzles its scientists and for its archaic access to information laws, says Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE).

In its annual free expression report card, CJFE says the "government is largely continuing its stonewalling tactics in hopes that journalists and other interested parties will simply give up and move on to something else."

The "most openly brash act of control," according to the CJFE report, is the policy of barring federally funded scientists from talking to the media, even when their research has already been published in peer-reviewed journals.

According to CJFE, after the policy was adopted in 2007, climate change science coverage in the media plummeted by 80 percent.

CJFE also gave Canada's access to information process a failing grade for the third year running due to delays, costs and general run-around - putting it at the "mid-to-low end of the international spectrum when it comes to our right to information."

It cites the case of The Associated Press, which filed requests for information on terrorism charges and convictions in 105 countries that have freedom of information laws. Turkey supplied the information in a week, India within a month, Mexico within two months. Canada asked for a 200-day extension.

Both the restrictions on federal scientists and access to info laws affect accountability and transparency in Canada, says CJFE.

The restrictions are not "impeding on the average person's ability to speak, but [they're] impeding - and stopping - the ability of a citizen of this country to know things that are going on that they have a right to know about," CJFE president Arnold Amber told reporters.

The report card also says Canada is failing to do its part to protect the digital rights of Canadians, pointing to the controversial Bill C-30, which would allow police to obtain personal information from Internet service providers without a warrant.

The report card is part of CJFE's annual review, which includes a summary of all major legal cases on free expression in the past year, a telling portrait of media ownership in Canada, and a series of articles contributed by Canadian journalists, lawyers and academics on free expression and the Internet.

Access "CJFE's 2011-2012 Review of Free Expression in Canada" here.

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