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Canada’s Department of National Defense wins 2023 Code of Silence Award

The military department took three years to respond to a request for information about the new warships.

Canada’s Department of National Defense took three years to respond to a researcher’s access to information request, earning it the Canadian Association of Journalists’ 2023 federal Code of Silence award for its outstanding achievements in government secrecy.

The researcher had requested information on the cost of a controversial program to build new Canadian warships.

The association said Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux estimated the cost to taxpayers of the shipbuilding contract, which would see the construction of 15 new warships for the Royal Canadian Navy, at around $84 billion. .

According to data cited in a January 2024 Ottawa Citizen article, the project is behind schedule and experiencing huge cost overruns.

“Even though this project is still stuck in the dry dock at Irving Shipyards, it looks like a sunk project in terms of accountability and transparency,” said association president Brent Jolly.

“Misleading journalists and returning 1,700 pages of censored documents to a researcher asking a simple question is both Kafkaesque and indefensible,” he said. “This demonstrates an infuriating lack of respect for the intelligence of Canadians and their right to know how their tax dollars are spent.”

The Citizen article says officials at Public Services and Procurement Canada issued a directive prohibiting companies interested in maintenance work on the warship program from speaking to journalists.

Instead, they were told to forward all requests to the ministry. “This directive was changed after the Citizen began reporting on what is called the ‘gag’,” the association said.

Dishonorable mention from the federal cabinet

This year’s jury also gave a dishonorable mention to the Federal Cabinet Office for its efforts, in partnership with the Australian government, to covertly undermine the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2003.

According to a report in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, cabinet records showed the Australian government sought to water down the language of the declaration from “self-determination” to “self-management.” Likewise, changes were proposed without consulting Indigenous people.

“It is an international embarrassment that Canadians must turn to records kept by other countries to understand how decisions were made by our national government on critical issues such as those involving Indigenous peoples,” Jolly said .

He said Canada’s abandonment of proactive disclosure of Cabinet documents in the 1980s “took us back, in one fell swoop, to the Stone Age in terms of transparency.” It was an ill-conceived decision at the time and one that continues to undermine our collective right to information every day.

The Code of Silence Awards are presented annually by the association, the Center for Free Expression at Metropolitan Toronto University and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

The awards draw public attention to government or publicly funded agencies that work hard to hide information to which the public is entitled under access to information legislation.

The remaining 2023 Code of Silence awards will be awarded every two weeks. This year’s winner in the provincial category will be announced on May 22.