As a journalist, nothing pisses me off more than being denied information.
So you can understand my frustration with the NL fishery.
So much information about our primary industry — including the impact of foreign fleets on migratory fish stocks — is denied for public release.
Because the release of such information could damage “international relations.”
Not Newfoundland and Labrador relations — but “international relations.”
You would think NL relations would take precedence, but then you'd be wrong.
Here’s an example of a standard request, one of dozens filed with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in recent years:
“A list showing the number of boardings of foreign fishing vessels for the last three years, including the following information: the number and the nature of infractions noted, the number of citations issued, and the punitive measures taken by the appropriate NAFO-flag state.”
That particular request was denied under section 15 (1) of the Access to Information Act, which reads:
15. (1) The head of a government institution may refuse to disclose any record requested under this Act that contains information, the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to be injurious to the conduct of international affairs, the defence of Canada or any state allied or associated with Canada or the detection, prevention or subversion or hostile activities.
Surveillance sources say there are frequent incidents of foreign overfishing on migrating stocks — overfishing that has prevented stocks from recovering, despite a commercial groundfish moratoria in Canadian waters since the early 1990s — but the information is kept from public scrutiny.
Like I said, nothing pisses me off more.
So how does Canada’s Access to Information law stack up against other nations?
A new study released earlier this month by a pair of British academics ranks Canada dead last — behind Australia, New Zealand (which placed first) Ireland and the United Kingdom — in an international comparison of freedom-of-information laws.
Canada came last for its low use, low political support, and weak Information Commissioner.
Even the commissioner herself, Suzanne Legault, reportedly says she’s “all too aware of the problem.”
Indeed, a recent article in the Globe and Mail (Can Access to Information be fixed?) described the Access to Information regime as “sluggish, unresponsive and obstructionist.”
Not to mention a cultural killer.
While on the topic of fisheries, there’s another development taking place that the public/local media should keep its eye on.
In late 2009 the Stephen Harper government ratified changes to the NAFO convention, despite the fact those same changes were voted down by a majority of MPs in the House of Commons.
Critics warned changes to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), which oversees fishing outside the 200-mile limit, could compromise Canadian sovereignty within 200 miles.
In other words, the NAFO changes could eventually lead to foreign control of Canadian fish stocks.
In the latest threat to those same stocks, Maude Barlow, national chair of the Council of Canadians, has sounded the alarm regarding ongoing Canada/European free trade talks as they relate to fish.
Have a read of the following paragraph:
“The EU is seeking to remove export restrictions and foreign investment limits from Canadian processing plants, as well as increased access to Canadian ports to bring the raw fish back to Europe for processing. Europe has overfished its own waters and is seeking uncontrolled access to ours; the impact report warns that CETA (Canada-European Union: Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) will likely lead to overfishing, especially in the Atlantic.”
“Uncontrolled” foreign access to NL waters?
If she's not gone now b'y, she'll be gone soon enough.