CBC Plays Cat And Mouse on Access to Information

Forced by the Court to respond to Access to Information requests, the CBC resorts to partial and redacted filings
CHARLOTTETOWN, Prince Edward Island - Nov. 13, 2013 - PRLog -- When CBC refused to hand over documents to Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault, she took them to Court and won a Federal Court of Appeal ruling against the CBC. (Globe and Mail Court rejects CBC appeal in access-to-information feud )

Two years later, the CBC are still resisting access to information requests of their own documents while complaining loudly when the Government plays hard ball with their reporters.

Sun Media have filed many Access to Information Requests and gotten nothing but blacked-out documents. That’s CBC’s idea of compliance.  Some Canadians don’t like Sun Media. Like them or not, Sun Media is a news source and has the right to know, like anyone in Canada.

NJN Network filed a request for Access as a test of the system and got the same response, plenty of paper with the most of the information removed. 44 pages of the CBC Final Release A-2013-00047 were blank.

Of course, the CBC did not want NJN to learn how much they were paying lawyer Alan Parish of Burchells law firm to keep a their publisher, who is a journalist in a wheelchair from reporting alongside CBC reporters at the PEI Legislature.

What more honorable cause could the CBC be working on than keeping a journalist with a disability from the PEI Legislature?

CBC President Hubert Lacroix was stunned that CBC would have to hand over documents just like the Stephen Harper government but he eventually came around to follow the law.

Or did he change his mind? People who request documents from CBC’s Access to Information Office often get replies with the information redacted out. These spy-craft responses are worthy of the CIA or CSIS but not logical for the publicly funded CBC. What secrets are they hiding?

On October 17, 2013, CBC reported “Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault says a lack of leadership and resources is creating weaknesses in Canada’s access to information system that need to be urgently addressed.”

It is ironic that CBC would report the story with a straight face, as though they were in compliance with the law. NJN filed our Complaint to the Information Commissioner after the CBC tried to spin our request in circles since July 2013.

Legault’s department is understaffed. CBC’s Peter Hull and his masters know the request will get lost in the shuffle.

On the other side of the fence, CBC hired a reporter in Ottawa just to file those Access to Information requests. David McKie (Twitter @mckiedavid) says his job is  ”in Ottawa out of the corporation’s (CBC’s) Parliamentary bureau, using the federal access to information law and provincial freedom of information laws to find original stories.”

McKie recently wrote his j-Source opinion: "Canada’s access-to-information system is going downhill and fast". “Excessive secrecy is the common denominator in many of the scandals that have side-swiped the government: the Afghan detainees, the F-35s, the in-and-out controversy, robocalls and now the Senate.” I wonder if David is allowed by his CBC masters to report on the CBC’s secrecy.

“Canada’s $1.1 billion state broadcaster is infamous for skirting ATI laws and doing the bare minimum to get by,” wrote Daniel Dickin in the Prince Arthur Herald “Simple information, like how many vehicles the CBC owns or the salaries of star CBC personalities like David Suzuki or George Stroumboulopoulos, should be readily available for as long as the CBC remains a government-owned agency. They were given an ‘F’ grade by Commissioner Legault for incredibly poor response times, the second-worst for a federal department.”

“When they were asked how many vehicles they owned, they claimed one: a 2007 Ford 500. They were later embarrassed when a House of Commons committee revealed the CBC actually owned 728 vehicles.”

Trying to find out the truth
NJN Network had its own experience with CBC’s lack of openness when we filed an application to update the CBC’s earlier 2012 report on external legal fees (A-2011-00162 (http://www.cbc.radio-canada.ca/_files/cbcrc/documents/ati...)). The request was for “Payment of 2011 External Legal Fees.

The earlier report contains 43 pages of single line items for legal fees paid by the CBC, a total of $3,980,615 paid to law firms with only one file redacted. That was some litigation where CBC was suing someone and using the Brownlee Law Firm.

Our request was much smaller and was based on President Lacroix’s statements to Parliament in March 2013 “Provide an itemized list of all legal fees paid by the CBC to deal with reports of harassment or inappropriate behaviour by CBC employees since January 1, 2008.”

Peter Hull of the CBC Access to Information office sent 87 pages of legal invoices. 43 pages had the information removed.

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Stephen Pate
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