Thu 15 Jan, 2009 10:24 am
No Taser Info, Bro: Canadian FOI Audit Finds Cops Hiding Stun-Gun Stats
By E&P Staff
Published: January 14, 2009
CHICAGO - The latest freedom of information (FOI) audit by the Canadian Newspaper Association (CNA) -- believed to be the world's only national audit of compliance with government transparency laws -- finds that among the worst offenders is the federal government's Canadian Broadcasting Corp., which includes news operations.
"The CBC was the least transparent of the federal agencies tested. It asked for six-month time extension to release a list of its top employees, their classifications and their salary ranges," the CNA said. "Most federal agencies provided the same information within a month. The CBC acknowledged but didn't answer a request for its policy on employees speaking to the media."
CBC was rated a D, the second-lowest mark given on its audit "report card." Four municipal governments, including Ottawa shared a D mark, while three municipal governments were rated F, including Quebec City.
But the most stubborn resistance to information came from police across the nation, the CNA found. "Many Canadian police forces obstinately refuse to report on Taser stun gun usage, despite an apology from RCMP Commissioner William Elliott last year for excessive secrecy, and mounting public controversy surrounding the deaths of Taser victims," it said.
Police officers who use Tasers are required to file use-of-force reports, CNA said. But some police departments "demanded exorbitant fees" to release the information, it added. It said the Winnipeg police, for instance, demanded $4,500.
This was the association's fourth annual national audit, and it found wild inconsistencies, from near-perfect compliance by the municipality of Saskatoon and its provincial government of Saskatchewan.
"Information freely available from some government agencies was denied by others. And when it wasn't denied, prohibitive fee estimates often took it out of the reach of all but the wealthiest requesters," said Fred Vallance-Jones, the University of King's College journalism professor who conducted the audit in collaboration with the CNA.
As with similar FOI audits of state governments conducted in the U.S. by The Associated Press, state press associations and coalitions of government, the Canadian audit used people acting as an ordinary member of the public. CNA mailed 219 requests were mailed to 22 municipal governments and their police departments; 10 provinces and Yukon; and 11 federal departments and crown corporations, making five identical requests at each level of government.