Time to stop operating in secrecy
| Posted: Wednesday, Jun 20, 2012 06:00 am
It was English author David Nicholls who wrote: “If you have to keep a secret it’s because you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
This statement is perhaps what the Pierre Trudeau federal government had in mind when it brought in the Freedom of Information Act in 1983 that allowed Canadians to demand, and actually receive, records from federal bodies, permitting Canadians to retrieve information from government.
Of course, somewhere along the line governments at all levels figured out ways to circumvent the heart of the act. And by the time Alberta introduced the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) in 1995 it had been expanded to become more of a blanket protection for public bodies, health authorities and private sector interests.
And it is a cover that far too many public bodies hide behind. St. Albert city council and the community services advisory board (CSAB) are right there, hiding. And there’s no real reason to. When council accepted the CSAB recommendation to cease giving programming dollars from the Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) to the Youth Community Centre it did so without making public the CSAB report or any details about how and why the board reached its decision.
It has refused to do so since, even after the Gazette asked to have the CSAB report made public. Somehow both council and the CSAB have conveniently forgotten they are answerable, ultimately, to the public, which has a right to know why these decisions are made.
If council and their boards feel they have to take the debate behind closed doors – and there are few legitimate reasons for that – once their decision is made the public has every right to know the reasons behind it.
Especially if, as Coun. Wes Brodhead suggested Monday, the decision was based on data. If it’s all about the numbers then why the secrecy?
Council wasted a lot of time Monday debating a motion that arose from the Gazette’s request to see the report. It was obvious some councillors didn’t understand FOIP and what could be made available under FOIP requests, which makes one wonder why then, does council have a FOIP attachment to almost every motion they pass that includes any in-camera discussion?
It was U.S. president John F. Kennedy who said: “The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings.”
Yet here we are, in a little city like St. Albert, and we have an elected council and its appointed boards operating in secrecy. What are they afraid of?
We could speculate and offer a lot of possible reasons, just as some St. Albert residents have been doing since this decision was made, and as citizens are forced to do whenever council or its boards hold in-camera sessions. They should not have to speculate.
Whatever the reason, it is inexcusable for any public body to deny the public the reasons behind decisions that directly impact the citizens they are supposed to be serving. The youth centre has received FCSS program funding for 15 years while it helps serve St. Albert kids.
So why the change of heart? We’re just asking, why the big secret?
American writer Donna Tarti once said: “Children love secret clubhouses. They love secrecy even when there’s no need for secrecy.”
Such as right now.