Democratic Access Denied

This is the first post in a regularly occurring series on topics of interest to local progressive information professionals.

Access to government information is required for a functioning democracy. The US founding fathers got it — and drafted legislation to reinforce this need and right.

Here at home, things are bit muddier. Commissions dating back to 1897 (e.g., Commission on Public Records, 1897; Pope Commission, 1912report) called on our federal government to get its documentary house in order and preserve the output of the state so that policymakers and residents alike might be able to meaningfully engage in their body politic.

Sadly, we’re still waiting — more than a century later. And the recent transition to digital publishing has turned mud into quicksand. Government information professionals now navigate the ghosts of publications past (many government publications are no longer produced or available to the public) and increasingly rely on US-based institutions to track down web content posted and then removed by their own government.

Government Information Librarian Amanda Wakaruk has spent considerable effort documenting some of the information carnage that has unfolded at the hands of the Harper Government. “What the Heck is Happening up North? Canadian Federal Government Information, Circa 2014” is available to download here: http://hdl.handle.net/10402/era.38740

While Amanda’s article was written for American colleagues, we’ve run with her observations and crafted a few questions that should be addressed by everyone’s MP here in Canada:

  • Where is the government’s digital preservation strategy? It should include a commitment to make perpetual open access to government information a reality and be written by information professionals who actually work in the area.

  • What happened to the stuff removed from government web sites? Does anyone even know what was actually removed?

  • Why do communications managers have the power to both decide what is published and assess their own compliance with the TBS Procedures for Publishing? What happens in situations of noncompliance? Or does that never happen because they will never opt to find themselves in noncompliance?

  • Why aren’t ALL communications items (not just publications, which are narrowly defined) sent to Library and Archives Canada and the Depository Services Program for stewardship and dissemination?

  • Why did the TBS roll out new web protocols without proper funding and procedures? Why did it take a court case to force the government to respond to the result?

  • Why is there such a thing as Crown Copyright? Materials paid for and produced BY the people FOR the people should be in the public domain.

  • Where is the Virtual Library (not a portal) announced in 2011?

  • Find a way to talk to information professionals about these issues, not just politicized bureaucrats. When can a funded advisory committee (that meets in person) be struck?

In short, we agree with the Distant Librarian — this is BS. Do your part to stop the BS. Send your MP an email with the questions above and ask them what they are doing to help collect, preserve, and provide access to government information.