Friday, November 30, 2007

Sunshine Network to Identify FOI Problems (US)

SPJ Sunshine Network to Identify FOI Problems, Candidate Positions for 2008

Thu Nov 29, 2007 1:41pm EST


INDIANAPOLIS, IN, Nov 29 (MARKET WIRE) -- The Society of Professional Journalists' Sunshine Network will identify key open-government issues at the local and state levels and help journalists document political candidates' views toward freedom of information before the 2008 elections.

Volunteers will identify key problems in their states' freedom of information laws, develop three to five questions to be posed to state and local political candidates, and then encourage journalists and others to get candidates' responses on the record.

"It is crucial that citizens know candidate positions on open, transparent government," said Clint Brewer, SPJ National President. "The American people deserve to know whether politicians asking for public trust in each state believe government should be accountable."

The effort is in conjunction with the national Sunshine Campaign,coordinated by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Already, the Sunshine Campaign

( has begun compiling a database to chronicle federal candidates' positions on freedom of information.

The ASNE Sunshine Campaign is collecting quotes and video documenting U.S. congressional and presidential candidate positions on freedom of information. The responses will be posted online as the election season heats up. Also, the Sunshine Campaign has posted online key questions that journalists can start asking candidates.

The Society of Professional Journalists, in conjunction with the NationalFreedom of Information Coalition, will extend that effort to the state level, aided by each state's SPJ Sunshine Chair, said SPJ FOI Committee Chairman David Cuillier.

"Journalists know their own states better than anyone else, so it'simportant the issues are generated at the grassroots level," Cuillier said. "We hope this will help the public understand the most pressing issues in their state regarding access to public records and meetings, and how the candidates stand.

"Better we all know how candidates stand on freedom of information beforethey are elected, not after," Cuillier said.

For years, SPJ's Sunshine Network has monitored freedom of information at the state level. Problems and stories of interest to journalists and open-government proponents are posted at the organization's "FOI FYI" blog


Also, efforts by Sunshine Chairs and other SPJ leaders to ferret out secrecy and educate journalists and the public have yielded results, including:

-- Providing journalists a state-by-state breakdown of access to prisons -- Providing journalists a state-by-state breakdown of access to prisons


-- Outing "Senator Secrecy," who attempted to secretly stop the Open -- Outing "Senator Secrecy," who attempted to secretly stop the Open

Government Act this year ( This was

possible with the help of Charles Davis, FOI Committee member, who wrote a

column about the issue that was picked up by more than 200 newspapers


-- Speaking out against efforts to make secret city e-mails -- Speaking out against efforts to make secret city e-mails

(, restrict filming and photography on

federal lands (, and restrict basic cow

directory information ( For information about getting involved in the Sunshine Network, contact SPJ FOI Committee Chairman David Cuillier at (520) 626-9694 or at See more information about SPJ's work on FOI issues at

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protectjournalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulatinghigh standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech andpress. For more information about SPJ and SDX, please visit Contact: Clint Brewer President

(615) 301-9229 Email Contact Beth King Communications Manager

(317) 927-8000, ext. 211 Email Contact Copyright 2007, Market Wire, All rights reserved. -0-

© Reuters2007All rights reserved



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Howard Government 'made art form of secrecy' (AUS)

Howard Government 'made art form of secrecy'

November 30, 2007 05:45pm

Article from: AAP

FORMER Liberal Party treasurer and Fairfax chairman Ron Walker says the defeated Howard Government made the suppression of public information into an "art form".

Mr Walker said he now looked forward to working with Labor's Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd to strengthen freedom of information laws.

"In the past 11 years of the previous government they have made the suppression of public information an art form," he told Fairfax Media's annual meeting in Sydney today.

"We look forward to working with the Rudd Government to implement the constructive proposals they have made to strengthen our Freedom of Information laws and other key reforms.

"We want stronger freedom of information laws, protection for courageous whistleblowers, shield laws for our journalists so that they are not jailed for doing their jobs, and accountability in government at all levels," said Mr Walker, who was a highly successful fund raiser for the Liberal Party.

Fairfax Media joined with most other major media organisations last year to form Australia's Right to Know Coalition.

The group was partly motivated by the experience of Melbourne Herald Sun journalists Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus.

The pair at one point faced the prospect of jail terms when they refused to disclose the source of a story about a Federal Government plan to slash the benefits of war veterans.

They were eventually convicted of contempt of court and fined $7000.


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Thursday, November 29, 2007

'Veil of secrecy' in Student Government Executive should be removed (US)

'Veil of secrecy' should be removed

USD's student government is hurting the university and themselves, editor says.

By: Jenna Mann

Posted: 11/28/07

Justin Wolfgang, editor-in-chief of The Volante, the student newspaper at the University of South Dakota, has filed an open meetings complaint with the Clay County state's attorney after USD's Student Government Association voted to remove its president from office during an executive session.


"My goal is for SGA at USD to stop the secrets and amend their constitution to prevent frivolous executive sessions from happening again," says Wolfgang. "Ultimately, this is between those in favor of openness in government and those who don't care what the fat cats do behind closed doors."


SGA held a public trial on Nov. 19 after acting Dean of Students Kirsten Compary accused SGA President Terry Liggins of misusing state vehicles and SGA funds. The governing body publicly voted 16-1 that Liggins had violated the SGA constitution and then went into executive session to deliberate on whether or not to remove Liggins from office. SGA voted 13-3 during executive session to remove Liggins, but the individual votes were never made public.


Wolfgang says that as a non-taxpaying agency that receives public funds, SGA is required to comply with South Dakota open meetings law, Codified Law 1-25-1. The law allows governing bodies to go into executive session to discuss personnel matters, but any action taken must be done in public meetings.


"I don't think I would be alone in saying that the SGA at USD is only alienating students and student organizations by continuing this veil of secrecy," says Wolfgang. "It would be in everyone's best interest if they would admit their mistake, change their constitution and move forward with progress for the student body."


Wolfgang says that since he filed the complaint, some SGA senators have begun discussing constitutional changes, but he hopes they are not just trying to appease him.


"My only hope is that these aren't empty promises in the hopes that this issue will go away, because I'm not about to back down," says Wolfgang.


If Clay County State's Attorney Teddi Gertsma decides to not prosecute SGA, the complaint will go to the state Open Meetings Commission for a decision.

© Copyright 2007 SDSU Collegian


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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Phil Taylor: Open government: A tough act to follow (NZ)

Phil Taylor: Open government: A tough act to follow

5:00AM Tuesday November 27, 2007

By Phil Taylor 


New Zealand enjoys a reputation for being relatively corruption-free. This country, with Denmark and Finland, fared best in this year's corruption perceptions index compiled by Transparency International.

The Official Information Act, with its purpose of promoting open government, is a significant factor in that.

Nicola White, whose book on the Act was released yesterday, found that freedom of information legislation has achieved a great deal. New Zealand government is extremely open and accountable. However, she says that positive picture comes with "a significant but".

"Sitting at the heart of this system there are some problems ... and we shouldn't be complacent about the corrosive effect of this building atmosphere of distrust and cynicism about the way in which it works at [the] core political level."

She demarcates between information sought, which is local and off the political radar, and what some of those she interviewed referred to as the "political game" the Act is drawn into.

"Once you do step into that political world, it's difficult and I think we should take seriously the cynicism that is building around this," White says.

Her interest came from working at the Law Commission with Sir Kenneth Keith, one of the architects of the legislation and a champion of open government, and later spending a decade as a public servant in the Beehive during which she did her time processing OIA requests.

"I was taken aback by how difficult they were and how much time they take." That led her to wonder why that should be when so many believed deeply in the Act.

White, who is Assistant Auditor-General (legal), got the chance to investigate during a stint as a senior research fellow at Victoria University. The book is published by the Institute of Policy Studies, part of the university's School of Government.

Although it's called Free and Frank, the book does not suggest the gates guarding information have been thrown wide open.

The title comes from provisions in the Act that protect the advice and decision-making processes of government. Among other things, they allow information to be withheld in order to maintain "the free and frank expression of opinions by or to Ministers of the Crown", or between officials.

This area has prompted much comment and contention.

Many public servants said the Act increased transparency, but one of White's interviewees said "within this organisation ... we tend to lean heavily on those provisions that we can apply to prevent information being released".

Several suggested public servants had become more cautious about what they wrote down - as a matter of risk-management and awareness of potential political impact.

A bureaucrat said: "The Act seems to have turned into the main battleground of political warfare rather than simply enabling the light of day to be shone on policy decisions."

Concerns included that it sometimes negatively affected relations between ministers and officials, inhibited the range of discussion needed under MMP and had created an industry of its own.

White found that the Act had fallen behind in an environment where the political battle was over information. Those making requests felt it was being abused in terms of information that was not released, for which there was no effective sanction.

Those in government saw manipulation by the Opposition bogging them down with fishing expeditions.

There is scope for argument because the Act is difficult and nebulous, says White.

It could be argued that refusal to release Cabinet papers until after decisions have been taken is contrary to the Act's intention to promote public participation. On the other hand, people need space to debate and work through issues in confidence, as does any board-type process.

Drafts do change. There was a tendency to trawl drafts, note changes and speculate. "What trade-off can you see? What pressure can you infer? You can build big stories out of slim evidence," White says.

White didn't come away with an impression about who was winning the information war and, although the book is in parts quite gloomy, she says our culture is "infinitely more open than many other countries".

Last week, the refusal of the Australian Government to release Cabinet papers proposing more changes to workplace conditions was upheld.

The Seven Network fought a 29-month legal battle to see the papers, but lost on the grounds that publication would lead to speculation of more changes to industrial laws with last Saturday's election pending.

White said such a legal fight would be unnecessary in New Zealand, where Cabinet documents were available as a matter of course after decisions were made.

But the political interplay is similar. Former prime minister John Howard said the decision was in keeping with the requirement of Cabinet confidentiality, while Labor claimed the documents would have been released if the Howard Government had nothing to hide.

Compare that with National MP Tony Ryall's berating of the Government for not releasing Ministry of Justice advice regarding the Electoral Finance Bill. "These papers must be damning," Ryall said. "Why else would their release be stonewalled?"

What should and shouldn't be released is a weekly contest that breeds cynicism.

"The overarching thing that began to concern me is that building of cynicism and distrust,"White says. "Whatever the rights and wrongs ... it provides an opportunity for a press release that says officials are gaming the system.

"For me, that's the fundamental concern. I'm a pointy-headed, noble public servant by training and I think being able to trust the Public Service and the Government is pretty fundamental to healthy citizen-state relationships."

More explicit rules are needed, she believes. The Act provides for each request to be judged case by case which, although increasing the prospect "of a finely-grained appropriate response" in each instance, came at a cost of building explicit rules, precedents and common expectation.

Responding to a request might involve collating documents, consulting several other departments, the legal team and possibly the minister.

"The departmental expectation may be that to get it out in 20 days we will have done OK," White says.

"The external expectation may be 'they'll have the stuff sitting on a file ... they would be able to turn it around within five days'.

"If you have no way of recognising you are both working to completely different expectations, not surprisingly your requester ends up frustrated and cynical that the information was released right on the 20-day deadline [whereas] the department ends up feeling they've worked like billy-o and are frustrated that all they get is complaints."

There is a sharp division among providers over whether the relevant minister should be involved in the process. "There are those who say it's completely inappropriate ... and a camp who say it's deeply constitutionally appropriate, the public service serves the Government of the day and the minister and the department are alter egos," White says.

She is in the latter camp. "[It is] perfectly appropriate territory for a minister to be forming a view and for that view to prevail. The Act was designed to give ministers final responsibility for decisions on what information went where."

Most information relating to policy processes leading to Cabinet decisions would fall into that camp. If the minister's decision is challenged, the minister has to justify it to the Ombudsman.

Life gets complicated if the information withheld turns out to show the minister in a poor light.

The views of ministers and their departments do differ, says White, "but you can't withhold information because it makes you look bad".

"The art of the system is working out, 'Have I got a legitimate reason or an illegitimate reason [to withhold]?'."

It is usually readily apparent when such issues as privacy, commercial sensitivity or legal privilege are involved.

"Time and again if you asked people what makes a request go badly, big [volume] and political are your two bad signs."

Both may have been factors in an incident that cost an Immigration Service manager his job in 2004. The communications manager was accused of hiding a memo in which he said he'd been let down badly regarding media questions about Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui, who at the time was a terror suspect.

"Everyone agreed to lie in unison, but all the others caved in and I was the only one left singing the original song," the memo said.

The service denied its existence to the National Party and the Ombudsman, but acknowledged its existence after the New Zealand Herald obtained and published a copy.

That is an example of the riskiness of putting quips in writing, says White, and a reminder of the vast soup of electronic information.

Collating that is an issue taxing those who manage government archives - and another area for dissension.

* Free and Frank by Nicola White. Published by the Institute of Policy Studies. Order from

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Feds making mint off student loans

EDUCATION Ottawa will pocket $549m in 2009-10


The Daily News


RTKNS Note: Here is an example of FOI at work. This one is getting lots of public feedback on the Daily News site. Check it out.



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Nova Scotia students are shocked that the federal government is making money off their student loans.

A recent access to information request has revealed that the government is charging students nearly double what it costs to borrow the money.

In currency terms, that means the federal government would pocket $549.5 million in interest revenue throughout 2009 and 2010.

Donny Hartt, a fourth-year student at Dalhousie University, found the news troubling.

"The whole reason for getting a student loan is to support myself through school, so when you hear of profit-making over interest, it's not a great feeling," he said.

If those figures were more public, he said, "I'd be more vocal about it."

Mike Tipping, president of the Dalhousie Student Union, thinks these figures mean one thing: "I'd say that the federal government needs to make several changes to the student-loan program," he said.

Students have been wondering why the government is making money off loans for a long time, Tipping said.

That's why the hard numbers are welcome news.

"It's great to have that evidence, said Paris Meilleur, the executive director for the Alliance of Nova Scotia Student Association.

They suspected all sorts of problems with the system, but "none of us have really had the resources to go in and research it all," she said.

Because 60 per cent of student loans are federal, with the remaining 40 per cent coming from the provinces, this news affects students across the nation.

But it has a profound meaning for students in Nova Scotia, said Meilleur: "We place the highest financial burden on our students than any other jurisdiction in North America."

High tuition, few provincial grants, and a weak economy are the main reasons for this, she said.

Nova Scotia has problems with poverty, crime, and even a brain-drain, she said, and accessible post-secondary education is part of the solution.

It was Vancouver's Julian Benedict, who started the Coalition for Student Loan Fairness, that made the access to information request.

Benedict made other discoveries with his requests. The government has recovered more than $1 billion on defaulted student loans, and $180.8 million was paid to collection agencies to gather money.

"It's insane that they spend that much money hounding after people," Tipping said, when the government could be creating a better repayment program.

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RTKNS Drops Student Oriented Facebook Group Due to Implementation of ‘Beacon’ Advertising Program


RTKNS Note: Due to recent changes that negatively affect the privacy rights of users, I have shut down the Facebook group that was setup as a student-oriented FOI channel for the Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia. Content that would have been posted solely through that group will now be posted here, in with the regular RTKNS website news feed. I trust that the members that belonged to the Facebook group will understand the reasons for stepping away from that application and continue to follow their FOI & democracy news here on the main site.


Thank you,

Greg Pemberton

RTKNS Web Admin



November 23, 2007

Facebook loses friends as it blabs on shoppers

Social network triggers privacy row after ploy to tap "the recommendation generation" backfires

Rhys Blakely

Facebook, the social network under pressure to convert clicks into cash, has angered its users by publicising details of their shopping habits without their permission.

The most serious damage done so far by Beacon, a new advertising system designed to tap into "the recommendation generation", has been to alert people to Christmas gifts that were meant to be surprises. But Facebook members are angry that the tool has notified their online "friends" of purchases made on retail sites outside of the social network.

"Matt in New York already knows what his girlfriend got him for Christmas," said one post on

"Why? Because a new Facebook feature automatically shares books, movies, or gifts you buy online with everyone you know on Facebook. Without your consent, it pops up in your News Feed - a huge invasion of privacy."

Facebook members using services such as claimed to have missed a box on the tickets web site that gave them the chance to opt out of the Beacon system.

The row threatens to distract Facebook as it strives to reap profits from its vast user base. The three-year-old site claims more than 55 million members and recently achieved an implied valuation of $15 billion after Microsoft took a minority stake. But it is expected to post a profit of only $30 million (£15 million) this year.

EBay, a Beacon member, has argued that communicating to consumers through "the people they already know ... has the potential to be a powerful tool."

Analysts agree: The Future Foundation, a think tank, this week published a report that said social networks will be a force in online retail. It found that the "ultimate endorsement for a product now comes from the 'lips and clicks' of friends and contacts on sites such as Facebook and MySpace, as purchase is more likely to come from recommendation than any other form of marketing."

The report estimated that with £13.8 billion already expected to be spent online this Christmas, retailers who embrace the "recommendation generation" could make an additional £750 million. However, just how social networks can turn a profit and spread commercial messages among groups of acquaintances without upsetting people remains unclear.

Meanwhile,, the heavyweight US leftwing campaign group, has suggested that Beacon threatens privacy across the web. "Facebook and similar sites have the potential to really revolutionize how we speak to each other in our society," a spokesman for said. "When people see their privacy violated, it sullies the entire thing."

A Facebook spokesperson said that was "misrepresenting how Facebook Beacon works".

He said: "Information is shared with a small selection of a user's trusted network of friends, not publicly on the web or with all Facebook users. Users also are given multiple ways to choose not to share information from a participating site, both on that site and on Facebook."

Earlier this year, Facebook shrugged off privacy fears when Chris Kelly, the group's chief privacy officer, told The Times: "We have always said that information [submitted by users] may be used to target adverts."


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Macedonian Government is the country's most secretive institution

Macedonia Slated over Secrecy

27 11 2007  Skopje _ The government in Macedonia is the country's most secretive institution, when it comes to sharing public information, shows a year-long survey carried out by an independent foundation.

The analysis, presented under the heading, "Wall of silence", shows that around 50 per cent of the information requests filed during the past year, since the law on access to public information came into force, have been totally ignored by institutions.


Dance Danilovska, the project coordinator from the Open Society Institute-Macedonia, which carried out the research, told Balkan Insight on Tuesday that, "of all institutions, the government is the most non-transparent one".


The authorities' failure to present the financial details of the government's media campaign, "Invest in Macedonia", their refusal to provide access to key commercial contracts, such as the sale to a foreign investor of the OKTA oil refinery near the capital, Skopje, and the agreement with the country's largest mobile operator, T-Mobile, are some of the most obvious examples of the government's secrecy, according to Danilovska.


She argues that many administrative barriers and fees discourage people from filing information requests more often.


"The law envisages the proactive approach of institutions in enabling easier access to information, but that has simply not been implemented", Danilovska said.


The analysis shows that municipalities, as opposed to the central government institutions, are generally more open to the public and more willing to implement the law.


Not a single official has been taken to task for failing to respond to information requests, although the legislation which came into force in November 2006 provides for measures to be taken for non-compliance.



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Election Commission of Pakistan Preparing for "free, fair and transparent elections"

EC obtains 3,00,000 voting screens to ensure secrecy

ISLAMABAD, Nov 27 (APP): The Election Commission of Pakistan has almost completed foolproof arrangements for ensuring free, fair and transparent elections in the country next year, Secretary Election Commission Kanwar Muhammad Dilshad said Tuesday. Talking to ATV, he said a tough electoral contest would be held on a total of 882 seats across the country. For the first time in country's history 4,30,000 transparent ballot boxes are being imported from China. Out of which 3,50,000 has already been arrived while remaining 80,000 would be arrived on December 7 or 8.

More than 3,00,000 voting screens have also been provided to all polling stations across the country to enable voters to cost their votes in a completely secure and private environment, he said.

International standard training programme of 75,000 presiding officers and 550,000 polling personnel would be completed in second week of December in cooperation with UNDP, he said.

Election Commission will welcome and provide maximum facilities to international observers.

The experts of International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES) having offices in 138 countries working on electoral system have come into country for monitoring the election preparations, he said.

In a bid to educate polling agents of various political parties around 5 million booklets containing election rules and regulations has been published by the election commission of Pakistan, he added.

There will be 250 polling stations in each constituency. It has been decided to announce results at each polling station. Copy of results will duly given to  all the concerned candidates. Besides one copy of results would also be inscribed at main gate of each station.

A comprehensive media campaign aiming to educate the masses about procedure of vote costing would also be launched in the first week of December. The services of around 100 NGOs have also been hired to motivate people especially women to take part in the electoral process,he added.

He said the code of ethics has been devised in consultation with the all political parties.

Responding to a question he said the lists of candidates who filed nomination papers till last day would be posted on website of the election commission on Wednesday.


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Monday, November 26, 2007

Arar, abuse and secrecy

Arar, abuse and secrecy

Posted 26 days ago

Few people have read the official report on the torture of Canadian Maher Arar. But if they've seen the recent film Rendition, they have a sense of what happened to him and others during the War On Terror. A desire to protect U.S. citizens became twisted by American authorities into reckless disregard for individuals. People were sent to countries in which brutality is a normal means of extracting information. Arar was among them.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has obviously never seen Rendition. She has also clearly never read the words of Justice Dennis O'Connor, whose commission meticulously investigated Arar's situation. Otherwise, she would not have delivered the rather daft remarks that spilled from her lips last week.

Rice, answering questions from a congressional committee, referred to the fact that Arar was tortured in Syria as mere "claims that were made." Then, in a show of breathtaking understatement, she said "we have told the Canadian government that we did not think this was handled particularly well in terms of our own relationship and that we will try to do better in future." She also noted that American authorities were not prepared to let Arar, who is still on a U.S. "no-fly" list as a possible terrorist, travel to their country. This despite the fact that U.S. politicians, including Republicans, who have seen the Arar file say it's clear he's no danger.

At first, Rice's words were construed as suggesting that the Bush administration was, perhaps, conceding that it had wrongly sent Arar off to the Middle East. However, U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins moved quickly to explain that Rice's remarks were a simple reiteration of a previous pledge that the Americans would try to communicate better if a Canadian citizen were implicated in terror threats south of the border. In fact, there has been little shifting of position.

A pity. Canada has already apologized to Arar for the part our government played in the nightmare that sent him to Syria via New York in 2002, where he was held for 10 months in a cell more akin to a grave than a prison, and repeatedly beaten and threatened. The Canadian government has also paid him $10.2 million.

Arar acknowledges that he is still unwell. There are physical aches and pains from his torture, but mostly what he faces are psychological tremors. He is, for instance, afraid of flying. And hearing, as he often has, reports that he "claimed" to be "mistreated" upset him enormously.

The American administration can do better than simply mewl about better communication. Not that Maher Arar will ever want to go near the United States again, but that nation can surely remove him from its "no-fly" list. An apology would also be nice.

Canada, meanwhile, can also go further. While Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day has written to the Americans asking that Arar be removed from U.S. watchlists, his own government can help prevent future such cases: It could agree that a second inquiry currently underway, into the detention and alleged torture of three other Canadians in Syria, should be an open process. Currently, the federal government is arguing to keep that inquiry behind closed doors.

In secrecy, abuse and brutality fester. That's what happened to Arar. Both Rice and our own government should learn lessons from that.

Letters? Send them to


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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Rudd to 'move forward'

Debbie Cuthbertson
November 25, 2007 - 12:06AM

RTKNS Note: see earlier post - "I'll End Secrecy"

Kevin Rudd has vowed to waste no time getting to work after winning government in emphatic fashion tonight, ousting the Coalition.
In his victory speech to Labor supporters at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium tonight, Mr Rudd outlined his plans to tackle Australia’s education, health, climate and infrastructure challenges head-on.
Introduced by Queensland Premier Anna Bligh as "the new Prime Minister of Australia", Mr Rudd walked into the stadium to the sound of rock music and raucous cheers, flanked by his wife and three children.
He smiled and giggled as he took to the stage before saying "OK guys" to quiet the crowd.
Mr Rudd paid tribute to his opponent, former prime minister John Howard, and his contribution to public life before announcing his own vision for his own government.
"A short time ago Mr Howard called me to offer his congratulations," he said to huge cheers.
"I thank him for the dignity with which he offered those congratulations.
"I want to acknowledge now for the entire nation and publicly recognise Mr Howard's extensive contribution to public service in Australia."
'Have an Iced Vovo'Mr Rudd revealed his intention to put aside enmity between sectors that had been in conflict during the Coalition’s 11 and a half years in Government.
"Friends, tomorrow, the work begins," Mr Rudd said.
"You can have a strong cup of tea if you want, even an Iced Vovo on the way through. But the celebration stops there."
Mr Rudd said his government would start work immediately on an education revolution, rebuilding the hospital system, address the "great challenges" of climate change and water, building "a 21st century infrastructure for a 21st century economy".
"I want to put aside the old battles of the past ... between business and unions ... growth and environment ... federal and state ... public and private ... "It's time for a new page to be written in our nation's history.
'Fantastic' deputy
He paid particular tribute to his deputy, Julia Gillard, for her support.
"She has been fantastic as the deputy leader and she'll be fantastic as the deputy Prime Minister of Australia.
"I want to thank all my shadow ministers lead by Wayne Swan in Queensland.
"You can take the boys out of Nambour, but you can't take Nambour out of the boys.

"I want to thank all the members of my parliamentary team in Australia.
Mr Rudd also paid tribute to the memory of his late parents.
He said his father, who died more than 40 years ago and would have been "surprised" at today's events. He recalled how he lost his mother on the eve of the 2004 election.
'Look to the future'
Mr Rudd singled out first-time Labor voters and those who had returned to the fold after a long absence.
"Today, Australia has looked to the future.
"Today the Australian people have decided that we as a nation will move forward.
"Together, as Australians, to unite and rewrite a new page in our nation's history.
"To make this great country of ours, Australia, even greater.
"Today, many people across Australia have voted Labor for the very first time.
"Today, many people in Australia have voted Labor for the first time in a long, long time.
"And I say tonight to the nation, I will never take that sacred trust for granted.
"I understand that this is a great privilege, and I will do everything to honour the trust that is extended to me."
Mr Rudd vowed to govern for all citizens of the nation.
'A PM for all'
"I say to all of those who have voted for us today, to each and every one of them that I will be a Prime Minister for all Australians.
"A Prime Minister for indigenous Australians.
"Australians who have been born here and Australians who have come here from afar and have contributed to the great diversity in Australia.
"A Prime Minister for our cities and our towns, a Prime Minister for rural Australia, which right now is experiencing the worst drought our country has had.
"For our men and women serving in uniform in difficult environments around the world.
"For all our states and territories in this great Commonwealth of ours, I will be a Prime Minister for all Australians."
"I make this solemn pledge to the nation: I will always govern in the country's interest."

This story was found at:

Friday, November 23, 2007

Going... going... gone! $1,000,000-plus missing from economic development fund

from Shelburne County Today
Nov 22 2007

Team Shelburne will never see Boy's School money, says SWSDAIn a stunning revelation by the attorneys for South West Shore Development Authority (SWSDA) and its CEO Frank Anderson, Supreme Court Justice Allan Boudreau and courtroom observers were told Thursday in a Yarmouth courtroom that as much as $1,000,000 or more of proceeds from the Shelburne Youth Centre (Shelburne Place) has disappeared into the general fund of SWSDA and is unlikely to be recovered. Attorney Reuben Dexter, representing Ocean Produce International, told the court that documents he recently got from SWSDA indicate that "monies may have been spent on all kinds of improper things." (see Follow the money below)

In a sworn affidavit submitted to the court by Anderson for the hearing, he testifies that "... there is no longer any specific sum..." to preserve for OPI's legal action and that the $1.27 million dollars from the Youth centre are now merely "a SWSDA accounting entry."Letterhead and legal fees "Team Shelburne will never see that money," admitted SWSDA attorney Robert Belliveau, "and the money was never supposed to be in the hands of Team Shelburne. This is government money and only SWSDA is authorized to administer it." Belliveau told the court that SWSDA has spent the money on everyday items like staff and stationery. According to financial statements from SWSDA, the estimated $400,000 in legal fees to date that SWSDA has incurred in a protracted series of lawsuits with OPI would also be paid from that fund. The hearing Thursday was part of an action for fraudulent conveyance of funds and breach of trust brought by OPI against SWSDA, CEO Frank Anderson, Ralston MacDonnell, the Shelburne Area Industrial Commission, all municipal bodies in the county and CVN Holdings, which holds the mortgage for Shelburne Place. OPI is seeking to protect the funds in the case that they win their $5 million lawsuit against SWSDA.Unbeliveable"This is unbelievable," Shelburne Municipal warden Paulette Scott told SCT. "Somebody is going to have to be accountable for those funds. I am not going to rest until we get to the bottom of this." Shelburne mayor P.G. Comeau was also upset at hearing about the court testimony. "I remember the promises made to us by at least six provincial ministers about getting the proceeds from the sale when this all started," said Comeau. "I'm certain that my council will not lie back and take this resting and I wish I could address the court myself." Neither Don Harding, solicitor for the Towns of Shelburne, Clarks Harbour and Lockeport, plus the Municipality of Barrington and the Industrial Commission, nor Shelburne Municipal solicitor Kevin Latimer attended the hearing. Latimer sent two letters to the justice requesting an ajournment. Justice Boudreau said that, in contacting his office and hearing from the other lawyers that Harding was on vacation, Harding seemed "uninterested" in the hearing. Mayor Comeau told SCT that he thought the town was paying for representation in court and perhaps "we should seek other council".

The big mistakeLockeport Mayor Darian Huskilson is confidant that his council will not take kindly to the disappearance of the monies, nor to the position that they were never targeted for Team Shelburne. "I don't like to speak for council, he adds, "but I am 99% sure that they will not just walk away from this." Huskilson was at the initial meeting with provincial ministers and remembers clearly - as do all other attendees questioned - that the monies were to go to Team Shelburne for economic development. "The big mistake," adds Huskilson, "was taking this place of the province's hands in the first place. We should have made them do their job."

Frankly speakingThe positions expoused by lawyer Belliveau for SWSDA are apparently not necessarily those of the board of directors or executive. "We've never been consulted about any legal strategy on this thing," says Huskilson, who serves as treasurer for the SWSDA board. "I imagine that, in the absence of any consultation, those are the positions of Frank Anderson that were being represented in court."

Shelburne County MLA (and former Barrington municipal warden) Sterling Belliveau (no relation) admitted to being surprised at the turn of events in the courtroom. "That delegation of ministers that came down to meet with us, they told us that the funds from the Youth Centre were to be used to create an economic development fund for the county." Lawyer Belliveau, who was assisted by junior attorney Gavin Giles, said that Team Shelburne could access funds from SWSDA by presenting a project proposal to them, which might result in funding by SWSDA via their line of credit, which is guaranteed by the same municipal governments. Secret Agent?"They're asking us to make requests to them to spend money they borrow on our credit for projects which should have been paid for with our funds that they spent on letterhead and lawsuits," said warden Scott. "It's really unbelievable". The money, says Scott, was always earmarked for use by Team Shelburne members for economic development. A recent letter from former economic development minister Richard Hurlburt said, according to Scott, says that Frank Anderson and SWSDA were agents for Team Shelburne in spending the money. "It was never supposed to disappear into SWSDA's general funds," she added. Hurlburt, who issued the letter just days before leaving his post as minister, is also a partner in a Yarmouth-based real estate development business with Frank Anderson.The Bowood ConnectionIn a November 2 letter from Belliveau to Latimer, the McInness Cooper lawyer demanded for SWSDA from the Municipality a $500,000 increase in its line of credit, which it might then have to use to pursue a legal action with Bowood Corporation. Ralston MacDonnell, a frequent beneficiary of large consulting contracts from SWSDA, is the sole officer of Bowood. The tender and sale of the property was controversial, in that a second bidder claimed that his was the only bid submitted under published guidelines and that CEO Anderson gave special preference to MacDonnell. Belliveau stated also in his November 2 letter that Bowood is on the selling block, a claim MacDonnell denies. In the letter, Belliveau intimates that there are still economic development funds available, but may not be for too long if the loan guarantees are not approved soon.

"There have been more recent threats from SWSDA to sue us," says warden Scott. "It's not officially a suit, but it's about our refusing to agree to increase the line of credit."Wharf RatsIn his comments during the hearing about people being concerned whether monies might be missing from various projects or accounts, Justice Boudreau said that people are naturally wary of companies or agencies which exist on paper only and which "might get lots of money to repair a wharf and then millions go missing." Justice Boudreau is from Digby, where a recent funding scheme to repair and protect the wharf turned into what may referred to as " a disaster." In that project, Ralston MacDonnell, according to a CBC radio report, was "the president of a company hired by a non-profit groupy in Digby to operate the port. His firm has received $2 million of taxpayers money through a management contract which MacDonell says doesn't require his company to itemize or account for what it spends to anyone." Attorney Belliveau twice repeated in court that SWSDA is a "public body", funded by the government. In a separate legal action between OPI's Ed Cayer and Anderson regarding Anderson's refusal to produce his expense claims, the SWSDA CEO has consistently claimed that SWSDA is not a public body, so is not subject to freedom of information requests. This is despite rulings by the provincial freedom of information office to the contrary. That case, in which the Freedom of Information Society has intervened, may go to trial in January.Never, never happen landAll of the parties to the suit except SWSDA agreed to allow the funds to go immediately to the Team Shelburne members. "Team Shelburne wants to get its hands on that money," asserted Belliveau, "and that's never going to happen." The Justice Boudreau suggested that, since SWSDA is backed by the government, and since they seem to have spent the money in question, perhaps the government could post a surety bond of sorts to protect the assets in the future. Those familiar with the current provincial government say that such a guarantee is unlikely.

"This fiasco only proves the point I have made for years," adds Shelburne mayor Comeau, "we need our own RDA here and we need it now." Despite several requests by Team Shelburne for a meeting with The hearing was adjourned until December 6 in Yarmouth, in order for SWSDA to submit their "internal accounting" for the Team Shelburne funds and for the attorneys in the case to absorb the many documents submitted by SWSDA in the past two days. That hearing will include a cross-examination of Frank Anderson regarding assertions and claims in his affidavit which OPI's lawyer believes may be incorrect

Follow the money: The total monies possibly accruing to Team Shelburne into SWSDA bank accounts from the discharge by provincial authorities of the former Shelburne Youth Centre (Shelburne Place) include:
Monies given by province on discharge in 2004 - $ 600,000
Interest on the above (2 yrs @ 5%) 60,000
Funds from sale to Bowood 550.000
HST on sale 77,000
Interest on sale funds ($627k x 5% x 4mos) 10,440
Total $ 1,297,440

This accounting does not factor compound interest on discharge funds or legitimate accountable expenses. Team Shelburne has not received an accounting of the funds to date.
Robert Belliveau declined to be interviewed for this story. Frank Anderson and Barrington warden Louise Halliday did not return calls by press time.

Website Outage Earlier Today

A hardware failure at our internet service provider prevented access to our website earlier today:

A network switch controlling Chebucto's
access to the Internet failed early Friday
Network access has been restored and all services
are operating at this time.

We apologise for the inconvenience to our users.

Updated: 12:24 ............Friday, 23 November 2007

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Sunlight Foundation

About the Sunlight Foundation

The Sunlight Foundation was founded in January 2006 with the goal of using the revolutionary power of the Internet and new information technology to enable citizens to learn more about what Congress and their elected representatives are doing, and thus help reduce corruption, ensure greater transparency and accountability by government, and foster public trust in the vital institutions of democracy. We are unique in that technology and the power of the Internet are at the core of every one of our efforts.

Our initial projects – from the establishment of a Congresspedia, the making of "transparency grants" for the development and enhancement of databases and websites, and two separate efforts to engage the public in distributed journalism and offer online tutorials on the role of money in politics efforts – are based on the premise that the collective power of citizens to demand greater accountability is the clearest route to reform.

Sunlight's work is committed to helping citizens, journalists and bloggers be their own best watchdogs, both by improving access to existing information and digitizing new information, and by creating new tools and websites to enable all of us to pool our intelligence in new, and yet to be imagined, ways.



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Cornwallis denies withholding immigration documents

Cornwallis denies withholding immigration documents



The Nova Scotia Business Journal


Immigration Minister Len Goucher is passing the buck by blaming the province's former partner for withholding audited financial statements on the Nova Scotia nominee program trust account, the president of Cornwallis Financial Corp. said.

"Either the minister is misinformed, or this is part of a deliberate, ongoing attempt by the province to deflect attention away from the Office of Immigration's mismanagement of the (NSNP) by erroneously blaming Cornwallis for its own failings," Cornwallis Financial Corp.'s Stephen Lockyer wrote in a letter to The Daily News. "At no time has Cornwallis resisted the release of the audited financial statements. In fact, Cornwallis has been keenly interested in having that information before the public because it discloses that the government's statements about Cornwallis's management of the NSNP are misleading."

Outside cabinet last Thursday, Goucher said he wants to release documents obtained by the legislature's public-accounts committee - which may clarify when the province first received advice to reduce its hefty immigration fees - but he can't.

Auditor General Jacques Lapointe is looking into the province's mentorship program, which was suspended in June 2006, after a report showed Nova Scotia was charging the highest immigration fees in Canada. The government terminated its contract with Cornwallis and later offered $60 million in refunds to 600 applicants.

Goucher said last week he'd asked Cornwallis on Nov. 9 to give third-party consent to release the documents to the media. He'd got a letter from Cornwallis on Nov. 15 informing him they had chosen "no position" on the documents' release. "Without their consent, it's not possible for us to release those documents outside of the FOIPOP (freedom of information and protection of privacy) process," Goucher said at the time.

Urging reporters to file Freedom of Information requests for the documents, Goucher said he wanted to release three audited financial statements prepared on the nominee program's trust fund while Cornwallis Financial Corp. was managing it, but Cornwallis wouldn't let him. Lockyer called that nonsense.

"It is ridiculous to suggest that Cornwallis's consent was necessary to enable those public documents to become available to the public. It is nonsense to suggest that Cornwallis's consent was required or that a FOIPOP request was necessary - the government releases documents all the time."

NDP MLA Graham Steele said Lockyer is "absolutely right." Hearing a minister misstating the law was troubling, he said. "We expect them not to get that kind of stuff wrong."

Goucher said Wednesday he wasn't "personally comfortable" releasing the documents because the government no longer has a contractual relationship with Cornwallis. "Without a third-party consent on it, I personally wasn't prepared to do it." – The Daily News


EXTRA: Some lawsuit papers held back: committee

By Brian Flinn, Transcontinental Media

The public will get to see some documents that have been turned over by the Office of Immigration. But the chairwoman of the legislature's public accounts committee said the government is withholding the juiciest information.

NDP MLA Maureen MacDonald said the committee is ready to release some records connected to the defamation lawsuit filed against the province by its former immigration partner, Cornwallis Financial Corp. "It's nothing Earth-shattering," MacDonald said. "It's in no way all of the documents we're looking for."

The committee asked to see all documents related to the failure of the province's mentorship program in advance of a Nov. 21 meeting with immigration officials. It got thousands of pages, and delayed the meeting one week so it could discuss how it should treat the information during a secret meeting Wednesday. There doesn't appear to be much chance the government will release information explaining why it signed an untendered contract with Cornwallis in 2002, or why cabinet decided last month to refund up to $60 million to immigrants.

MacDonald said the government is claiming some records are protected by cabinet privilege. It won't even show the committee a list of the documents it's withholding. After former economic development minister Ernie Fage resigned from cabinet last year, the government gave the committee copies of documents with sensitive information censored.

"During Potatogate, they gave us everything, but a bit of it was blanked out," MacDonald said. "This time, they just held it back. We've put them on notice we will bring them in to tell us why." – The Daily News



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Commentary: Everybody's Business: Freedom of information

Commentary: Everybody's Business: Freedom of information

Published on Friday, November 23, 2007

Do we really need a Freedom of Information Law?

If our rulers want to keep us informed of what government is doing and has done, why can't they just tell us?

There is no law that forbids them. Transparency is public policy, right?


But if they want to keep secrets from us, why are they going through the motions of drafting a Law that pretends to force them to tell us?

Dear me, are they having a problem with some government employees who won't obey orders?

Must be.

Surely the same effect would be served by tweaking what are called "General Orders" — the rules governing the terms and conditions of Civil Servants' employment and behaviour. They can be changed at a moment's notice, as long as the Governor gives his consent.

This proposed new Freedom of Information Law looks like an excuse for empire-building — plenty of new jobs for political friends and family. Diverting the Complaints Commissioner from delving into Cayman Airways' problems will be a bonus.

One thing the Law will not do is provide us with an iota more information than the politicians want us to have. It is as full of loopholes as you can possibly imagine.

Secrecy is the core principle on which Cayman's governance-model is based. Secrecy protects our rulers from accountability; that is why we have it.

The general concept of a Freedom of Information Law is sound enough. Nine years ago the Vision-2008 exercise's Open Government Committee recommended such a Law — as one element in a comprehensive package of reforms. We certainly didn't mean it to be a stand-alone item, like a lone lighthouse in the middle of a stormy sea.



"Climate of censorship"


Here is an extract from the Minutes of the very first meeting of the Committee, in October 1998.

We agreed with the principle of "government in the sunshine", whereby all government activities are open to public view by default - i.e. unless secrecy is legislated for in each specific case... We agreed that open government is a basic right, not a privilege to be granted or withheld by ExCo. [Exco was the forerunner of today's Cabinet.]

Here is another.

We decided that all "public documents should be available for inspection by the public without unreasonable delay, including minutes/notes of all government meetings relating to public affairs, and all government contracts and bids for contracts... We noted the possibility that the wholesale publication of government records might inhibit the participants in the relevant meetings, but we concluded that the principle of openness is too precious and beneficial to be lightly discarded."

And finally,

We deplored Cayman's "climate of censorship", which we believe works against the whole concept of open government. We will insist that the general public be allowed to debate the subject ... in whatever forums are available, beginning with the publication of these Minutes."

Unfortunately, our optimism was dashed when the Vision-2008 Planning Team (I think it was called) forbade us to circulate our Minutes beyond our little band and the Team itself. Thanks to political censorship from that day to this, the extracts above are the first ever to be published in any public forum.

The reason why I have quoted directly from the Minutes is to illustrate the gulf between our ideal of a secrecy-free system of governance and the shabby reality. We on the Committee genuinely believed in open and accountable government. The government of Cayman didn't then, and doesn't now.


Behind closed doors


We all acknowledged, in our meetings, that the integrity of the Work Permit procedures was irredeemably compromised by the secrecy of the decision-making process. So we recommended that all Work Permits be issued by some Civil Service unit, in the hope that an Ombudsman (also recommended) would limit corruption there.

The recent decision to give Immigration Department clerks the power to issue Permits is in line with our Committee's report. We must hope Cayman is not jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

The Immigration Department's reputation for integrity fell away disastrously in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan. There have been some reports of recovery, but the Department's culture of secrecy is as strong as ever. The proposed Freedom of Information Law may in practice, therefore, actually provide less information than we get now, instead of more.

The Immigration authorities have an anti-social tradition of flashing their "not in the public interest" badge, in response to legitimate requests for information. If it sticks to that tradition, it will wreck all hopes of transparency in government.

It's hard to see either the Department or any of the crony-Boards suddenly finding religion, and committing to transparency. I wouldn't bet ten cents on it happening voluntarily, and a law full of loopholes is not going to make any difference.

A few years ago a US judge rebuked the then US Attorney General for conducting secret deportation hearings against certain immigrants. Writing the judgment of an Appeals Court, he criticised the uprooting of people's lives by decisions made in secret sessions. His words have become famous. "Democracies die behind closed doors", he wrote.

Ain't it the truth?



Copyright© 2007 Cayman Net News at All Rights Reserved


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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lifting the secrecy veil

November 22, 2007 12:00am

SECRECY has become the pervasive form of self-protection for governments throughout Australia.

That is why the Right to Know coalition, supported by the Herald Sun and other media outlets, is campaigning against secrecy in government and the erosion of free speech.

We condemn moves that limit our right to know but we should also applaud when politicians make it easier to shine a light on the inner workings of government.

The Victorian Government has taken a few steps away from secrecy with a revamp of Freedom of Information laws.

Premier John Brumby announced an end to so-called conclusive certificates, thus removing the power of senior bureaucrats to arbitrarily block FoI requests.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal will now adjudicate if the Government refuses to release a document.

The Premier also announced the axing of the $22 FoI lodgment fee and said the new legislation will force departments to update information on the internet.

The Government claims the legislation will implement all of the recommendations of an inquiry into FoI laws by Ombudsman George Brouwer.

These changes are welcome but censorship and severe restrictions in obtaining information under FoI remain, as does the increasing use of court suppression orders.

We lack effective shield laws for journalists who refuse to reveal their sources and whistleblower protection for civil servants who expose wrongdoing in government.

There is much to be done at a state and federal level to reverse the corrosive culture of secrecy that is a blight on our freedoms.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Miscellaneous November 2007 Headlines:

Nov 07, 2007: An unhealthy culture of secrecy and spin-doctoring (Vancouver Sun)

Nov 07, 2007: Secrecy, spin and the right to know (

Nov 07, 2007: Editorial: A culture of secrecy (Herald Sun - AU)

Nov 05, 2007: Subtle shift towards secrecy: report (The Australian)

Nov 01, 2007: Ombudsman irked by level of municipal secrecy (London Free Press)

Nov 01, 2007: Secrecy impedes informed discourse (ON LINE opinion - AU) (US) was created to advance the values of open and accountable government. This site gives the public an unprecedented level of access to government documents by allowing users to browse, search, and review hundreds of thousands of pages acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other public disclosure, or "sunshine," laws.


With the system, citizen reviewers can engage in the government accountability process like never before. Registered users can review and comment on documents, adding their insights and expertise to the work of the national nonprofit organizations which are partnering on this project.


City lawyer won't disclose legal tab (London, Ont.)

City lawyer won't disclose legal tab

Controller Bud Polhill says he'll seek full disclosure at today's board of control meeting.


Nearly a year has passed since a high-priced Toronto lawyer argued a losing case before the Supreme Court of Canada that will cost London taxpayers more than $300,000.

But though the anniversary of that court date is tomorrow, London's city solicitor hasn't disclosed how much was paid to lawyer George Rust D'Eye despite repeated requests from The Free Press to do so, most recently yesterday.

The Supreme Court found council broke the law when it met behind closed doors to discuss a development freeze.

Controller Bud Polhill said he'll ask city administration to disclose the legal costs when board of control meets today.

"I think it's something the people should know. It should have been out there before now," he said yesterday.

Even without counting the money paid to Rust D'Eye, who charges $545 an hour, the legal cost to taxpayers of the case is approaching $300,000:

- At least $108,000 for Siskind-Cromarty lawyer Jim Caskey.

- $106,597 to the lawyer for developer RSJ holdings.

- $17,500 for the legal costs of Polhill and Coun. Roger Caranci, who signed affidavits, used by Patton, about the goings-on behind closed doors.

- The value of the work done by city hall lawyers, which partway through the process, was estimated as high as $53,400.

RSJ's lawyer, Alan Patton, freely disclosed his tab when asked yesterday.

"My client always insisted he wanted the truth to be told. Most of my private-sector clients would do the same thing."

Patton said the city should follow suit.

"It's necessary and important for (the city) to disclose the legal costs they paid to their own lawyers," he said.

In 2003, RSJ Holdings Inc. applied to demolish a house at 915 Richmond St. and build a fourplex. Its plans were frustrated when council, concerned by the spread of student housing, temporarily froze development on Richmond between Huron and Grosvenor streets.

The freeze was later quashed by the Ontario Court of Appeal because council had twice debated it in sessions closed to the public.

From: Centre for Foreign Policy Studies

Subject:Democratization in Africa


CFPS Seminar Series presents:

Democratization in Africa by Larry A. Swatuk

Wednesday, November 21

Lord Dalhousie Room

12:30 p.m. - 2 p.m.

For further information, please contact Janna Fertsman at 494-3769 / Centre for Foreign Policy Studies

All are welcome.

Refreshments will be served.


An unhealthy culture of secrecy and spin-doctoring

Stephen Hume

Special to the Sun

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Democracy can be plainly defined as government by collective consent of the governed. Consent requires free access to the information upon which those holding delegated authority base their decisions.

By definition, then, no genuine democracy conducts its affairs in secret. Yes, there are rare occasions when national security, fair judicial process, protection for vulnerable individuals and public safety may require temporary confidentiality.

But governments which routinely obstruct access to information regarding the reasons for -- and consequences of -- their administrative actions are frustrating public discussion of policy and its merits or failings.

If it's not possible for the public to engage in intelligent debate over what government is doing or not doing on its behalf, then it's not possible for those citizens to make informed decisions at the ballot box about who should govern.

Recent events in British Columbia point to an unhealthy political culture of secrecy, deception by omission, misleading half-truths, disingenuous dissimulation and sleazy spin-doctoring that grows on our provincial government like black mould.

For those who missed it, Lindsay Kines of the Victoria Times-Colonist requested a report completed last year assessing the province's program for intervening to assist sexually abused children. When Kines finally got the document -- he had to obtain it with a freedom of information request -- it had been censored, apparently on grounds that revealing the blacked-out bits would harm the financial or economic interests of a public body.

Kines, diligent reporter that he is, also obtained an uncensored copy of the report and was thus able to compare the two documents. What the comparison showed should be of enormous concern to every voter.

The censor had removed not comments that might expose individuals but those comments that reflected unfavorably upon the government's performance. In particular, the censor struck passages which showed that agencies helping sexually abused children felt, to use Kines's words, "neglected, isolated and short-changed by government" and were unanimous that the funding was insufficient. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Children and Family Development was spending $560,000 on a luxurious redesign of its executive offices.

The specifics are troubling enough. They automatically invite the question of what one should make of a government that appears to give higher priority to the comforts of its executives than it does to the well-being of sexually abused children supposedly under its protection. Not to mention the government's odious attempt to hide the unadorned facts of these self-evident priorities from the public that consents to the taxes that pay the bills.

But this story raises a bigger issue in a broader context. Almost a month ago, Colin Gabelmann, the former NDP cabinet minister who in 1992 led a drive for freedom of information legislation, told The Vancouver Sun his initiative had failed under successive governments.

Instead of fostering transparency and openness, Gabelmann said, funding to support freedom of information requests had been systematically reduced by both the NDP and the Liberals, while government officials and civil servants continue to "throttle" public access with interminable delays and onerous charges.

That assessment is amplified by information and privacy commissioner David Loukidelis's recent observation that government record-keeping is in disarray and that B.C. needs laws requiring public servants to document their deliberations, actions and decisions.

As I noted in a column last week, even our provincial archive is under-resourced and subject to a hare-brained policy of raising revenue for the Royal B.C. Museum, under whose jurisdiction it now falls, by charging the public for accessing and using records for which its taxes have already paid.

The archive descends to shabby part-time status even as the museum mounts glitzy -- and costly -- entertainment spectacles.

All this adds up to a collective abuse of the spirit and intent of legislation that was intended to foster a culture of transparency and openness

These stories of censorship, secrecy and the plight of the archive are evidence that government is less interested in empowering public discourse than it is in suffocating criticism. That amounts to an assault upon the democratic process itself. Thoughtful citizens permit it at their peril.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007