When the Access to Information Act was passed in 1985, it was obvious to some that its terms could be used to hide, as well as to disclose information.
And that's exactly what has happened.
It has also tended to make journalists more complacent -- expecting information to be available to them on request and without digging.
Over the years there have been complaints that DND (among others) has ignored deadlines for revealing non-secret information. This has also been a consistent complaint by various ombudsmen.
People seeking access to information about their own files, held by, say, the RCMP, are often censored, blacked out, or simply unavailable.
So Access to Information legislation is not only no guarantee for increased openness and transparency by government, but can be misused as a formula for concealing or obscuring information.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than within the CBC.
Right now the organization that owns the Toronto Sun and other Suns across the country -- Quebecor Media Inc., (QMI) -- is scolding the CBC for its contempt of not only Access to Information legislation, but also of the courts for demanding it reveal information the public has a right to know.
A QMI/Abacus Data poll shows Canadians from all walks of life and political parties overwhelmingly agree that the CBC should disclose how it spends taxpayers' money, and that it should not use this money for a court battle against disclosure.
First, you don't need an opinion poll to determine if something is right or wrong. By functioning on government subsidies of (at least) $1.1 million annually, the CBC has an obligation to let the public know how this money is spent. This is so obvious that an opinion poll is redundant.
By keeping salaries secret, gratuities secret, entertainment costs secret, travel costs secret, absentee costs secret, the CBC is violating its mandate and should be an embarrassment for every CBC employee.
The CBC is not a private company. We all have a right to know how it spends the money taxpayers provide.
Polls are misleading that show two of three Canadians object to the CBC spending public money to defend itself, or to launch court appeals. All the CBC has is public money, so who else will pay lawyers?
Secrecy about how it spends its subsidies has little to do with programming or excellence in broadcasting. It has more to do with disguising how the till is being looted.
Of course the CBC should not be competing with the private sector by bidding (and raising the price) for American schlock shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.
Nor should it be bidding with our money for NHL hockey, or football, or the Olympics, when the private sector will invest private money to air such events.
As for the continuing secrecy, the answer -- or at least an answer -- would be to appoint a CBC president who understands openness and will open the books for all to see. If exorbitant pay-outs can be justified -- let the CBC defend them.
Believe me, there's no shortage of people who would work for the CBC regardless of the money available. That would apply if the CBC lost its federal subsidies and had to compete in the market place like the rest of us.
It might even make the CBC more attuned to the real world.