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News May 17, 2023

Time’s up, game’s over: Toronto Police Service recognized with 2022 Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievements in Government Secrecy

The Toronto Police Service (TPS) has been selected as the 2022 recipient of the Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy, in the law enforcement category, for its repeated efforts to block journalists from accessing information needed to hold tax-payer funded agencies accountable. 

“Over the past year, the TPS has repeatedly engaged reporters in many contemptible ‘cat and mouse’-style games that are unbefitting of a modern government agency striving for transparency,” said Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ). “When brought together, the repeated efforts by the TPS to obfuscate and impede the free flow of information is an indictment on their commitment to the public’s right to know.”

One particularly egregious example this year’s Code of Silence Awards jury noted was the TPS’s refusal to provide a journalist with wait time data for 911 emergency calls from 2017 and 2018 in a simple machine-readable electronic format. 

Instead, TPS delayed, taking two years to respond to the journalist’s request under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. When it eventually did complete the request, the law enforcement body provided the journalist with the data in a 1,508-page, non-searchable PDF document. 

The journalist appealed the police’s denial to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. In May 2022, via an interim decision, the TPS was ordered to comply with the journalist’s original request to provide the data electronically. 

“This kind of roadblock is all too common for journalists when reporting on police forces in Canada,” said Jolly. “At best, it points to public agencies needing to up their record-keeping game rather than playing ‘hard to get’ with journalists. At worst, it raises the fundamental question: what is there to hide?” 

The Code of Silence Awards are presented annually by the CAJ, the Centre for Free Expression at Toronto Metropolitan University (CFE), and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE). The awards intend to call public attention to government or publicly-funded agencies that work hard to hide information to which the public has a right to under access to information legislation.  

The remaining 2022 Code of Silence Awards will be handed out bi-weekly. This year’s winner in the federal category will be announced on May 30.