This week’s column has been written by Ted Gerk. Ted works at Heritage Christian Online School and is a member of Kelowna Christian Center. This column appeared on the Castanet News site, Oh Canada! by Dave Kalamen
In the 1990’s, British Columbia introduced and passed into law one of the most open Freedom of Information laws in the world.
Colin Gabelmann, considered the “Father of FOI”, stated when the legislation was introduced, that the law would: “…empower citizens so that they can fully exercise their democratic rights. The reality is that if government has information which is denied to citizens, it becomes extremely difficult to make informed judgments about government policy or to endeavour to influence public policy.”
Most people would agree.
Professor Donald Rowat, once stated: “Parliament and the public cannot hope to call the Government to account without an adequate knowledge of what is going on nor can they hope to participate in the decision-making process and contribute their talents to the formation of policy and legislation if that process is hidden from view.”
But what if I told you that government actually made a law to ban one subject? One topic has been declared off-limits to the public. Would you be outraged? Suspicious?
What if that topic was the environment? What if you were not allowed to know the impact of certain chemicals on the health of children? What if you were forbidden from knowing who was lobbying government on various issues….and banned from finding out what they were presenting as fact?
Citizens would feel disenfranchised. They would, I hope, feel outraged. After all, we are a democracy. ALL topics are open for discussion. Right?
We protest when books are banned, but what about information? Do we censor information, just so we stifle debate? How, if we make any topic off-limits, can we hold government to account? How can we possibly participate in the decision making process when access to information is denied? We’re not some communist government after all.
“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants, electric light the most efficient policeman,” stated Louis D. Brandeis.
Now that I have your attention…and hopefully your outrage, I’ll tell you what subject is off-limits.
I know what you’re thinking….oh no….not again! Yes, this is what is being censored, now where has your outrage gone? Are you content to allow abortion info to be “off-limits”. Because if you are, I would submit to you that you don’t really believe in “Open Government”, but “some” open government.
In 2001, the NDP government passed a law, amending our Freedom of Information Act, and inserting one topic to be made “off-limits”, one subject to be censored. And since government has taken that right of information away, it is hardly surprising that it now attempts to use it on other issues.
Commentators are now talking about how our FOI law is in shambles….the spirit of the law has been so abused that it is ineffective.
Feel challenged? John Stuart Mill once said” We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion and even if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”
In 1822, Pres. James Madison stated: “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or, perhaps, both.”
Let’s be consistent – information as part of open government is integral to democracy, our democracy. The Bill that banned access to information on abortion was the first step on the road to the destruction of Freedom of Information in British Columbia. Sadly, we are already ten steps removed from it. And no one seems to know or understand why.
Now you do.