Feds to CBC: Be open, comply with law

Brian Lilley, Parliamentary Bureau

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

OTTAWA - The minister in charge of the CBC is calling on the state broadcaster to respect Canada’s access to information laws.

CBC is currently fighting the federal information commissioner in court to stop Suzanne Legault’s office from reviewing files that have been requested under the access laws but either not delivered or delivered with much of the information removed. Last year CBC racked up nearly 900 complaints with the information commissioner, far more than any other government department or agency.

When Legault’s office sought to examine 16 of those complaints, some filed by QMI Agency, the CBC took the matter to court. The federal court ruled in favour of Legault but the state broadcaster is now appealing.

"While I won't comment on the matter that is before the courts,” Heritage Minister James Moore told QMI, “I will say that under our Government, over 70 institutions are now accountable for the first time under the Access to Information Act, including the CBC. We expect the CBC to respect our Access to Information laws and answer requests responsibly and quickly."

Liberal heritage critic Pablo Rodriguez agreed.

“I think that CBC should respect its obligations as anybody else,” Rodriguez told QMI. The Montreal MP said CBC should be able to protect journalistic sources, a practice allowed by the access law, which permits CBC to exclude material related to journalistic, programming or creative activities.

"The exclusions are clearly about stuff that nobody can have access to," CBC president Hubert Lacroix told QMI last month.

The core of the argument is whether CBC is applying the exclusions too broadly. QMI and others say yes, CBC says no ¬ the attempt by the information commissioner to review the material in private and issue a ruling was an attempt to settle the matter, but Lacroix argues that even the commissioner cannot see material that CBC deems for its eyes only. That means even the MPs that vote to give CBC its annual $1.1 billion subsidy can't see documents that Lacroix claims are exempt.

NDP heritage critic Charlie Angus told QMI he thinks the CBC is right to fight claiming the CBC is under-funded and being undermined by the current government.

“Their No.1 competitors have been after them from the get-go,” said Angus referring to broadcasters like Quebecor and CTV. Angus said CBC is in a unique position, having to open their books while other broadcasters do not.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is calling on the Harper government to do more than pay lip service to openness and force CBC to follow the access law.

“The outcomes are what matter and the CBC is about as transparent as mud,” said the CTF’s Kevin Gaudet. “Like most government departments, and crowns and agencies, they use every trick in the book to hide whatever they want.

Sadly, the Harper government approves of this approach."


Videos

Photos