That’s how Canada’s Information Commissioner recently described1 the structures behind our access to information legislation – systems critical to ensuring citizens can hold their governments accountable.
The Commissioner reports that complaints to her office are up 35 percent since the beginning of 2013, while everyday more and more stories are emerging about institutions not fulfilling their obligations under Canada’s transparency laws.2 Even the New York Times editorial board has criticized our government’s treatment of publically funded scientists and civil servants, who are finding it increasingly difficult to speak to the public, media, or even other scientists about their work.3 These stories are emblematic of a significant shift in Canada’s approach to openness and transparency – a shift that has been quietly taking place over the past few years.
In response, Media Democracy Days 2013 has developed a series of programming focusing on information control. Access to Information, personal privacy, online spying, and much more will be heavily featured at MDD this year.
First, MDD will kick off Friday afternoon by empowering concerned citizens, aspiring journalists, and activists of all backgrounds to hold our government and public institutions accountable through a free hands-on workshop called DIY FOI: How to File a Freedom of Information Request. The workshop, hosted by Access to Information expert Mike Larsen of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, will take place at the VPL Central Library from 3:00 – 4:20 PM.
Later that day, attendees will hear a keynote address from BC’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, Ms. Elizabeth Denham. Commissioner Denham will be talking on the importance of privacy safeguards and access to information in an era of data mining and mass surveillance. Her talk will be followed by a screening of the 2013 documentary film Terms and Conditions May Apply (2013), focusing on the insidious and often invisible legal implications of popular tech company’s end-user agreements – agreements that allow private corporations to do things with your personal information you could never imagine.
Finally, on Saturday, November 9, we will feature three exciting panel discussions focusing on information control. The first is titled Information Control in Canada, and will showcase representatives from the BC Civil Liberties Association, the BC Library Association’s Information Policy Committee, the Wilderness Committee, and Kwantlen Polytechnic Univeristy, to discuss new strategies in challenging state and corporate information control.
The second, Producing Shame: Sexuality, Visibility, and Cyber-bullying will look at how “cyber-bullying” has uniquely affected young women and queer youth, as well as the privacy implications for today’s youth. And finally, the third panel, Pipelines, Pundits, and Media Power will examine how the federal government has tried to control spin the message on energy projects in BC. Aboriginal voices, the muzzling of scientists, and the practices of journalists will all be up for discussion.
Democracies thrive on the open free flow of information – but the channels of communication are increasingly being threatened by questionable government practices. It is time to come together and explore how our public institutions can serve us better before we see our freedom of information systems are closed down completely.
See you November 8 & 9th,
Josh and Beth, on behalf of Media Democracy Days 2013