National Defense wins award for its efforts to hide information from the public

The “Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy” award is presented annually by the Canadian Association of Journalists.

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National Defense’s attempts to hide the costs of a multimillion-dollar warship construction project have earned it a top secret award from a national news organization.

National Defense will receive the “Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy” award for taking three years to respond to a freedom of information request about the cost of the Canadian Surface Combatant program.

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This dubious honor is awarded annually by the Canadian Association of Journalists. The Code of Silence Awards draw public attention to government or publicly funded agencies working hard to hide information to which the public is entitled under freedom of information legislation.

The department’s attempts to hide the project’s costs, requested by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin using the Freedom of Information Act, were chronicled in a January article in this newspaper.

Rubin eventually received 1,700 pages of records, but all details of what taxpayers had spent so far and what kind of work Irving Shipbuilding did with that money were redacted.

Critics have called the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) project, the largest purchase in Canadian history, a bottomless money pit with little accountability or oversight. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has reported that the CSC will cost more than $80 billion.

National Defense also attempted to mislead this newspaper by claiming it took three years to produce the records because Rubin had requested 20 years of documents. When that claim was challenged, the department acknowledged it was not true.

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“Misleading journalists and returning 1,700 pages of redacted documents to a researcher who asks a simple question is Kafkaesque and indefensible,” Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, said in a statement. “It shows an infuriating level of disrespect for the intelligence of Canadians and their right to know how their tax money is spent.”

National Defense did not respond for comment.

The National Defense secrecy award also highlighted the three years it took to provide CBC News with documents about what is known in defense circles as the wolf fiasco. In that case, military officials botched a propaganda exercise in 2020 in which they attempted to spread disinformation about angry wolves in Nova Scotia.

In her testimony on February 12 to the House of Commons defense committee, Taylor Paxton, Corporate Secretary of National Defence, said that department staff work very hard to ensure that access requests are responded to within 30 days required by law. “Sometimes it takes more than 30 days,” she told parliamentarians.

Defense Minister Bill Blair, however, acknowledged before the same committee that his department breaks the law 40 percent of the time by failing to meet legally required deadlines.

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Critics have noted that the military and National Defense are moving toward greater secrecy even as the federal government releases billions of dollars in additional spending.

The committee also heard that the department continues to retain a wide range of records, including documents on shipbuilding and fighter aircraft, as well as files that survivors of military sexual assault need for legal purposes.

Additionally, some former soldiers have complained that they face uphill battles getting the military to provide the documents needed for medical benefits claims.

The level of secrecy has also been extended to what used to be run-of-the-mill records. Just days after Canada’s top soldier publicly advocated for greater openness on defense issues, his office refused to release a copy of that speech.

Instead, the office of the Chief of the Defense Staff, General Wayne Eyre, suggested that if this newspaper wanted a copy of the speech he gave in public on March 7, it would have to file a request under the Access to Information Act. Information.

Eyre’s office also declined to explain why it was refusing to release a written copy of the speech given at an advocacy conference in Ottawa. Previously, the Canadian Forces not only provided transcripts of such speeches, but also posted them online. A copy of Defense Minister Bill Blair’s speech at the same conference on the same day was posted on a federal government website.

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