April 15: Elections and freedom of information with Cara Zwibel

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Open government and freedom of information. That’s what we expect in a democracy, and yet, according to a recent opinion piece written by Cara Faith Zwibel, ” … Canada ranked last [on] the effectiveness of freedom of information laws among major Parliamentary democracies.” Many listeners will remember how difficult it has been for members of Parliament to get information on the Afghan detainee matter, and now during this election campaign we are learning that the Harper government may have misused millions of dollars during the G8 Summit. Yet weeks into the campaign none of the party leaders seem to be taking on the increasing opaqueness of the federal government. The Harper government fell over this very issue, and so one would think that leaders of democratic political parties and citizens would make the contempt of Parliament ruling a big issue. On April 15th, cbc.ca reported  that the Afghan detainee documents cannot be released while Parliament is adjourned. While leaders and candidates square off over budgets and party platforms, this country is sinking further and further into a democracy deficit, not a financial one. We seem to be in this grey area of procedural rulings because the Harper government has stonewalled so much for so long.

 We  talked to Cara Zwibel, Director of the Fundamental Freedoms Program with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, to discuss these issues around the contempt of Parliament ruling. Also, we explored this rather unknown territory around the need for information during election campaigns.    

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Be sure to read The Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Submissions to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. 

Sample questions for candidates (CCLA)

  • What is your party’s strategy for increasing government openness and transparency? Can you list your top three priorities when it comes to increasing government openness and how you would go about implementing those priorities?
  • Will your party commit to substantial amendment of the Access to Information Act so that Canadians have effective and efficient access to information about the workings of their government?
  • Currently, Cabinet confidences are completely excluded from the Access to Information Act, which means government institutions can refuse disclosure on the basis that something is a Cabinet confidence, and there is no independent review of whether that claim is well-founded.  Would you amend the Act so that refusals to produce this information could be subject to review by the Information Commissioner?
  • How would you strengthen the Offices of the Information Commissioner and the Integrity Commissioner?

Music featured on the program:

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