Thursday, 24 February 2011

LAC abdicates responsibility

In a legal hearing on the release of documents relating to security monitoring of former New Demoscratic Party leader and "Greatest Canadian" Tommy Douglas, Paul Champ, lawyer for The Canadian Press, claimed that Library and Archives appears to have relied entirely on security service (CSIS) advice, abdicating its responsibility to weigh the alleged risks to national security against public interest in historically significant documents.

Judge Simon Noel also expressed concern that an appropriate balance had not been found, leaning too far toward protecting secrecy around decades-old intelligence and insufficiently toward the public right to access to historically significant materials as an asset to society.

Government lawyer Gregory Tzemenakis announced that additional materials from the Douglas file would be released, so confirming that the balance had been inappropriate. Nevertheless large part of the Douglas file is still being withheld. 

The hearing is covered by various media reports including from CTV News at

Comment: Part of LAC's mandate is to be a source of enduring knowledge accessible to all, contributing to the cultural, social and economic advancement of Canada. Instead, all too often, its approach is that by default information should not be released. Instead the burden of proof should rest on those who would deny access, and not just for documentation on historically significant figures like Douglas. Records relating to ordinary Canadians of interest for family history, such as 75 year old passenger lists, should be being made available by LAC.


William Bruce Hillman said...

I have seen this not just at LAC. One gets the feeling that the word "copyright" has become a bugbear for the beaurocrats at any archives. At UWO there is a collection of paylists etc. of the 7th. Fusiliers from the 1880's. One has to fill out a request form supposedly because of copyright. Copyright ? from the 1880's ? My feeling is that they feel that these documents are theirs and therefore damn well copyright,

Anonymous said...

Ah please, get in the real world. Take a moment and look at the legislation and related government of Canada policy and the concept of the institution of greater or primary interest and the requirement for mandatory consultation which in this case is CSIS; they have the lead. LAC does not have any expertise in accessing injury to the detection, prevention, or suppression of subversive or hostile activities. This is the responsibility of CSIS. Further, look at any other country with access (or freedom) of information legislation and the intelligence agencies always have the lead when it comes to “intelligence information.” LAC has not abdicated its responsibility.

WJM said...

Since this otherwise unrelated matter has been raised, I must say, LAC has totally abdicated its responsibility on the copyright file.

Their copyright notices and policies are overbroad, overparanoid, and completely disregards the notion of public domain; and LAC has lost what pathetically little interest it ever had in defending the public interest and the interests of posterity in matters such as copyright extension or the abolition of perpetual Crown copyright. Their continuing silence on the latter is baffling; on the former: Lucy Maud Bill, 2003.

LAC has come to view itself as the gatekeeper, not the gate-opener, when it comes to our collective memory.

Fortunately, there is very little wrong at LAC that couldn't be fixed by getting rid of pretty well everyone in middle- to senior-management, and everyone with a consulting contract, and starting over from scratch with people who have, from time to time, actually USED an archive rather than simply run one into the ground.