69th General Assembly

Denver, Colorado

October 18 – 22, 2013

Concerns about government access to information policies and certain court rulings that were seen as weakening protection of confidential sources were major setbacks during this period. On the 30th anniversary of promulgation of the nation’s Freedom of Information Act in July Canadian Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault announced her office would be conducting a major review of the act, recently criticized by a number of press organizations. The Ottawa-based Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom (CCWPF) called on the government to “dismantle its culture of secrecy” surrounding access to information. It complained of growing wait times, drastically increased exemptions, and fewer records being created. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) also called for changes to the Act, saying in a report titled A Hollow Right: Access to Information in Crisis that without urgent reforms the access to information system “could soon become dysfunctional.” More than 140 groups, including free speech advocates, among them the CJFE, have called on the Ontario legislature to adopt legislation to prevent what are known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) from being used to limit freedom of expression. This mechanism deters people from speaking out against what they see as social wrongs fearing libel suits. Press freedom activists in recent months have raised concerns about a government move to foster tighter regulation of state-owned corporations that they say could have a chilling effect on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). A piece of draft legislation, Bill C-60, if passed would according to Index on Censorship “lead to a deterioration of the arms-length relationship between the government and CBC, the country’s independent broadcaster.” Nova Scotia’s new Cyber Safety Act, introduced -following a teenager’s suicide- to ensure that residents of the province have a place to turn to when they experience or are aware of cyber bullying, has been seen by PEN Canada as a threat to free expression. Consumer and freedom of expression advocacy organization Open Media launched a campaign opposing Internet-related and copyright provisions in current talks on a multi-national trade agreement known as Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), saying that leaked draft texts show that it would have negative ramifications for Inter users’ freedom of speech, requiring participating countries, including Canada, to significantly tighten controls over the Internet, and could mean criminal penalties for even small-scale unauthorized downloading. Toronto Star photographer Alex Consiglio was arrested and mistreated as he sought to take photos of an injured employee during an incident inside Toronto’s public transit Union Station. He was handcuffed by police and briefly held in a headlock. He was told journalists are not allowed to take photos inside the station without first obtaining permission. A Vancouver-based federal fraud investigator, Sylvia Therrien, was suspended without pay by the government in May after leaking to the media documents she said showed that officials set quotas for denying employment insurance benefits to eligible claimants. The Toronto Star said in an editorial that “she ought to be commended for her courage” as a whistleblower.