Monday, July 20, 2009

The measure of a government: not trusted to disclose major report on health crisis

Updated (5:00 p.m.) due to government hijinks...already! See below. (And two more...)

How bad is it when a major government report is about to be released and major media in the country focus on the angle of whether or not the government can be trusted not to tamper with it prior to its release? That's the case today as Sheila Weatherill hands her listeriosis report over to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. Check out the Globe headline on the CP reporting, "Will keep hands off listeriosis report, PMO says."
The Harper government says it won't tinker with an independent investigator's report into last year's deadly listeriosis crisis before releasing it to the public.

Sheila Weatherill has handed in her report to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. She was expected to hold a news conference Tuesday in Ottawa to discuss her findings.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the report won't be edited or altered in any way before it is released on Tuesday.

“We're looking at the report right now and she'll present it to the public tomorrow,” Kory Teneycke said Monday.
The circumstances of Weatherill's investigation into the listeriosis outbreak, characterized by "closed door meetings," "secrecy" and a lack of any public commentary by Weatherill during the process have not exactly inspired confidence in her investigation. Questions about the release of the report and its findings follow naturally along.

Beyond this specific report, this government's hallmark is non-disclosure, clamping down on access to information and media control. There is little reason on such occasions to provide them with the benefit of the doubt.

Updated (5:00 p.m.): Aaaaand....on cue...Kady O'Malley points out changes from the government's initial media advisory on the report to the second. The first included this paragraph:
I have been able to conduct my investigation independently and impartially. There has been no interference from any party whatsoever. Overall my experience was positive in that people wanted to help and be part of the solution. All those who were asked to participate agreed to be interviewed and were open with their information and advice.
The second omits that profession.

The government clearly does not want to give any credence to the notion that Weatherill's independence is an issue. Too late.

Update II (5:25 p.m.): And let's face it, the prior update does not help us in feelin' the non-tinkering promise from Teneycke. But maybe that's just me.

Update III (5:30 p.m.): A reminder of the Conservative minority's position (Food Safety sub-ctte) on the release of the listeriosis report, just for fun:
RECOMMENDATION 11

The Government of Canada should review all findings of the Independent Investigator’s report.

RECOMMENDATION 12

The Government of Canada should release the Independent Investigator’s report to the public.