The Town of Erin, Ont., is the 2019 recipient of the Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy in the category of municipal government.
The award is given annually by The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University (CFE), News Media Canada and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) to call public attention to government departments and agencies that put extra effort into denying public access to government information to which the public has a right under access to information legislation.
The awards jury, which comprised representatives of the four press-freedom advocacy groups, recognized the Town of Erin with this citation:
It has become commonplace for The Town of Erin to refuse to be transparent with the media and therefore local residents on even basic matters of public interest. Local officials regularly avoid interviews with the media, insist that all communications from media must go through a recently hired communications officer, and Chief Administrative Officer and only by email. Even these requests are then dodged or refused. Worse yet, Erin officials have failed to inform the media of meetings at which major decisions will be made.
In response to a large number of senior staff and department heads being fired a couple of years ago staff at the Wellington Advertiser submitted FOI requests for details of severance payments. Erin refused these requests and Erin Mayor Allan Alls told the media they would not release these details unless forced to by the commissioner.
The jury also indicated five other municipalities that, thanks to similar achievements in government secrecy, deserve honourable mentions: Cranbrook, B.C., Morinville, Alta., North Bay, Ont., Cornwall, Ont., and Côte-Saint-Luc, Que.
The CAJ, CFE, News Media Canada and CJFE will announce the Code of Silence Award recipient in the Federal, Provincial, and Law Enforcement categories in the coming weeks.
All four organizations will continue to advocate for substantive reform to Canada’s federal access-to-information law.