The Government of Alberta is the 2019 recipient of the Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy in the provincial category.
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 governments, 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 four press-freedom advocacy groups recognized the Government of Alberta with this citation:
George Orwell’s 1984 was written as a warning. But, increasingly, it seems Premier Jason Kenney’s government in Alberta is using it as a handbook. In June 2019, Kenney followed through on a campaign promise to create an “energy war room” to counter what the government claims is a conspiracy by foreign-funded interests to attack the province’s energy industry. But critics say the theory behind that conspiracy has been debunked. Instead, they say the war room, which has a $30-million annual budget, is an attempt to silence those who would tell the truth about Alberta’s oil patch and its contribution to the existential threat of global climate change.
The Government of Alberta created the Canadian Energy Centre and made all of its internal operations exempt from freedom of information legislation—ensuring there would be no transparency or public right to know what it is doing.
In response to these developments, Amnesty International has expressed “deep concern” that the war room will “undermine and violate a range of Alberta’s human rights obligations,” as well as create a “climate of hostility” toward environmental human rights defenders, “exposing them to intimidation and threats, including threats of violence.”
But the public’s power to hold the war room to account has been severely constrained by the government’s decision to shield it from freedom of information requests. That means the public will only find out what the Kenney government wants them to find out about the war room.
The CAJ, CFE, News Media Canada and CJFE will announce the Code of Silence Award recipient in the Federal category on April 23. Previously announced recipients of 2019 Code of Silence awards are the Town or Erin, Ontario in the Municipal Category and police forces in Sudbury, Windsor, Peterborough, Longueuil, Quebec City, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, and the Ontario Provincial Police that share the award in the Law Enforcement Category.
All four organizations will continue to advocate for substantive reform to Canada’s federal access-to-information law.