Secret orders

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Ever wanted to be an investigative reporter? Well, here’s a simple exercise you can try at home. All you need is a computer.

Go to your Google search window and type in “Ottawa order in council”; your first hit should say “Welcome to the Privy Council Office website.”

Click on the link and look to the right under the heading Quick Links. The first one on the list is called “Orders in Council — Search.”

See? You’ve just established that the federal government posts all of these documents online.

What is an order in council? Well, as The Telegram’s James McLeod explained in an article Saturday, it’s a legally binding decision of cabinet that has almost the same status as a piece of legislation.

You can’t keep legislation under wraps. But this province does not make orders in council available online or on request — unlike every other province. And it took two weeks of being bounced from one department to another for McLeod to even find that out.

MUN political science professor Kelly Blidook said he finds it shocking.

“It’s laws. There can’t be a limitation on which citizens get to know which laws are in place. It just sounds so weird to me,” he said.

Weird, indeed.

To be fair, this has been the status quo for a long time. But it still reflects poorly on how the Dunderdale government — especially since the implementation of Bill 29 last June — has spread a wide cloak of secrecy over almost every shred of information. Few media or individual requests for information are granted without significant redactions (blackouts) of the text, or without lengthy delays beyond the legislated 30-day window.

The provincial government loudly trumpets itself as among the most open in the country. Yet its actions rarely reflect that claim.

Worse yet, it appears the Canadian standard is hardly anything to crow about.

In a Canadian Press article Saturday, Dean Beeby reported the Harper government has dismissed a September 2012 report ranking Canada 55th among 93 countries around the world in terms of freedom of information.

The Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy’s report was the most recent of three conducted since 2011.

The real irony, though, is that Ottawa’s four-page rebuttal took five months to surface after an access to information request was filed.

The report’s authors say chronic delays in fulfilling information requests are what primarily counted against Ottawa in the ranking formula. And that’s something the Dunderdale government is notorious for.

In other words, when information is not released within a reasonable time frame, it’s just as bad as simply denying access.

As for keeping orders in council under wraps, former Executive Council clerk David Vardy put it best.

“I think it reflects … an antiquated approach to government — a very protective, secretive approach.”

Organizations: Google, Privy Council Office, Canadian Press Centre Executive Council

Geographic location: Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • Ron Tizzard
    February 28, 2013 - 15:24

    Yak, yak, yak....Why do members of the general public keep on knocking their heads with this government about the release of requested information? Why doesn't the public just accept that this government is 'anal retentive' about sharing (period). The only resolution to the retentiveness is an enema delivered by means of a singular passage i.e. the election box? Governments need to be informed that their butts held to the fire should they become anal retentive with its voters. In the final analysis, the truth be told, is that the problem is the general public, itself! The general public accepts that the politicians will lose their conscience and voices when they are elected...but, keping voting for the jerks. The pro blem, as I intimated, is not the pollitical yo-hos, it's us. We have to change...and actively take charge of the political processes in a serious way, if change is to take place. HOLD POLITICIANS TO THEIR WORD....WE HAVE NOT BEEN DOING IT! OTHERWISE, STOP COMPLAINING.

  • saelcove
    February 28, 2013 - 09:56

    Any one who wants info on sandy pond go to google a lot more info than the telegram will give you

  • Jim
    February 26, 2013 - 19:03

    This is what Telegram reporters consider investigative reporting? A google search? We need some real journalists here in Newfoundland - someone with training and experience in research, who has the interests and abilities of going beyond google... someone who will actually help the public understand these issues with a bit more depth

  • Pierre Neary
    February 26, 2013 - 16:15

    Purple files?? What Purple files??

  • Corporate Psycho
    February 26, 2013 - 16:10

    Pretty disgusting stuff. Come on 2015!!! ABC all around. Even vote for the Green Party or an independent before u vote for these corrupt politicians again.

  • crista
    February 26, 2013 - 14:59

    held hostage????and they want to know how to save money????and how do you investigate your own???? with the way it is being done????

  • Lies
    February 26, 2013 - 12:41

    Lies! I googled “Ottawa order in council” (with quotes) and the Privy Council Office website was not even in the search results. Perhaps your instructions could be more detailed and accurare, like you expect from the government.

    • Pam Frampton
      February 26, 2013 - 12:54

      I just Googled it and the Privy Council Office website was the first result, as the editorial indicates.

    • W McLean
      February 26, 2013 - 13:17

      Don't use the quotes.

  • saelcove
    February 26, 2013 - 10:52

    it has to be ok, every ones hero says so

  • Winston Adams
    February 26, 2013 - 09:58

    In 1989 I felt confident I was on the right side of the law as I kept insisting I had a right to enter a Victim Impact Statement at the hearing of a pedophile. VISs were part of the Crininal Code of Canada for 2 or 3 years then. I was being told they didn't want VIPs . Concerned that I might raise the issue in the proceeding I was escorted out before the proceeding started. The officer said they thought I might have a weapon ( i did have a tape recorder). In the back room of the Hr Grace courthouse I was grabbed by 3 Mounties, the choke hold applied to near unconsciousness, handcuffed, jailed for 4 hours. This was followed by several charges against me and years of court appearances. 23 years later it remains at the Court of Appeal level. I later found out that the law of Canada was not inacted in Nfld for several years with the necesaary Order -In Council . This, it appears, was convenient to bar victims rights. Technically I remain a convict from this incident.Whenever I now hear of victims presenting their VIS, I am reminded of my desire to enter one, and the result. Order -In -Councils are indeed a part of the law. And to think they are still being hidden. Secret Orders indeed.

  • Foghorn Leghorn
    February 26, 2013 - 09:23

    The PC'S slogan for the next election, "If you can't convince them, confuse them!" .