Quebec's Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks has been named as the recipient of the 2020 Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy in the provincial category.
The provincial ministry is being recognized for its unwillingness to share lab data with scientists at Environment Canada related to four mysterious fish kills that took place during the summer of 2019. At the time, dead fish showed up in the Ottawa River, with the source believed to be the Lièvre River, east of Ottawa and Gatineau.
"Obstructing the free flow of information between different levels of government to address a critical environmental issue is disgraceful behaviour," said Peter Jacobsen, chair of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Canadian Issues Committee.
Ultimately, Environment Canada was forced to file access to information requests to get the scientific data from Quebec. Quebec told the Ottawa Citizen that it only asked for formal access requests "where appropriate," but gave no further explanation.
The Code of Silence Awards are presented annually by The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ); the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University (CFE); News Media Canada; and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE).
The intent of the awards is to call public attention to government or publicly funded agencies that work hard to hide information to which the public has a right under access to information legislation.
Recent winners in the provincial category include: The Government of Alberta, Ambulance New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan's Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure.
Last week, the Federal Cabinet was recognized for outstanding achievement in government secrecy at the federal level for suppressing public access to details about very large loans – at times amounting to billions of dollars – given to corporations out of the public purse.
The Code of Silence Award recipients in the municipal and law enforcement categories will be announced over the next two weeks.