I wasnt prepared for what happened next

I wasn’t prepared for what happened next r1 ... BECOME A MEMBER | SHARE THIS NEWSLETTER The Narwhal's masthead logo Alberta UCP Leader Danielle Smith is framed between UCP supporter signs. United Conservative Party Leader Danielle Smith recently told CTV News she believes everyone’s rights under the Canadian Constitution need to be protected.

“They are dearly important to me and all Albertans,” Smith told the news outlet in a statement. “I am impressed with any political leader that stood up for the core Charter rights of freedom of speech, expression, religion, assembly and association these last several years. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.”

But my recent experience dealing with the Alberta government tells a different story — an experience that points to glaring shortfalls in free speech in Canada as we mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

In March, I started filing a series of requests for records from four different Alberta ministries. Thanks to reporting by my colleagues Carl Meyer and Drew Anderson in December, I knew officials had been meeting in secretive committees with oil and gas lobbyists to cook up new government policies and decisions.

These are decisions affecting public health, public safety, the environment and the economy. They have larger national and international implications, but are immediately important in Alberta, where voters are about to head to the polls for a general election, with only a few pieces of the full picture.

I used a provincial transparency law — the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act — to request the records. I’ve been using laws such as this one for nearly two decades as an important tool for my reporting.

But I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

In recent weeks, the four ministries systematically refused to accept 26 separate requests for meeting records with lobbyists over the past two years.

As my requests came in, internal correspondence shows how officials from a central Alberta office sprung into action. But instead of figuring out how to release information, they actually organized a meeting to discuss how to refuse my requests for records.

This effort to stifle my reporting is just the latest example of how journalists in Canada are increasingly facing obstacles to doing their jobs.

As some of you know, The Narwhal has asked the courts to review whether the RCMP and the federal government infringed on press freedom in November 2021, when officers arrested photojournalist Amber Bracken and kept her in jail for several days.
Lawyer Sean Hern, The Narwhal's Emma Gilchrist and Carol Linnitt and photojournalist Amber Bracken walk to the B.C. Supreme Court in February.
The Narwhal’s award-winning staff are also among those struggling to cope with rising hostility and online harassment, particularly of women journalists. Our Ontario bureau chief, Denise Balkissoon, has also documented how a troubling lack of transparency in her province about changes to protected areas and the Greenbelt region is “a violation of democracy that will affect Ontarians for generations to come.”

The first part of Canada’s Constitution — the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — guarantees “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”

To me, this means we must all be empowered with the information that allows us to exercise those rights and freedoms.

In healthy democracies, this would mean elected representatives introduce and support laws that ensure information about their government is also free. And so freedom of information laws become an extension of free speech — one that applies to all members of the public, regardless of their identity.

At The Narwhal, we take these rights seriously. We consider it part of our responsibility as journalists to ensure you are empowered and informed about matters that could affect your health and safety, as well as the environment and economy.

We aren’t intimidated by those who are opposed to free speech and a free press — and we haven’t played our last card in this battle to shine a light on secrecy.

Thanks for reading and supporting The Narwhal as we fight for press freedom.

Mike De Souza
Managing editor
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. BECOME A MEMBER

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By Mike De Souza
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