The Supreme Court of Canada decided that private government documents should remain private after the case was initially brought to the court by Stephen Harper’s Reform Party in the 1990s.
The court ruled unanimously on Friday morning that daily agendas produced by the Prime Minister and his cabinet are not subject to public scrutiny.
When Stephen Harper was the leader of the Reform Party in the 1990s, he and his party had a dispute about how PM Jean Chretien ran his daily agendas and wanted to access private government documents. At the time, Laurie Throness, chief of staff to the current transport minister, made the request while she was a researcher for the now-defunct Alliance Party, a precursor to the current governing Conservatives.
She now joins her party, and her leader, in their major flip flop to ensure that documents stay private. Depending on which Harper you look at, this can be win or lose. If we consider Harper as a Reformer in the 1990s when Chretien came under fire for police brutality at an event, this is a major loss. If we consider Harper as a Conservative from 2006 to present, this is a major win.
On a side note, the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression has released a document entitled “Like Sheep to Slaughter” which gives the Harper Government an F- when it comes to access of information. It urges Canadians to be vigilant on their freedom of expression.
"More than half of the federal institutions surveyed for their performance on access to information ranked below average and five failed outright. The governing party was ruled in contempt of Parliament for failing to produce information about major spending programs. All of which may explain why journalists seem to be using the access system less often than in the past."
“Like Sheep to Slaughter” - Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Statistics in the report say that 44% of federal access to information requests aren't met in the 30-day limit and it takes an average of 395 days to resolve a complaint concerning access to information.
"We shouldn't be complacent about our free expression rights here in Canada," said Bob Carty, CJFE board member and journalist who was one of the authors of the 40 page report.
"The structural problem of access to information on the one hand and the spontaneous events of the G20 summit show areas where we have to be very vigilant," he told CTV.
"There's an opportunity right now for the Harper government to do the right thing to make this a more accessible government," said Carty. "We will be watching the Harper government's performance in deeds not words."
"There is reason for concern," said Carty. "If we drop our guard we better be very careful about where our country and democracy is going."
The report gave the Office of the Information Commissioner was given an above average grade, and Suzanne Legault, an A-.
In the end of the day, this court ruling means that Canadians have even less to say about their government’s actions and even less to say about how their country will be managed.