Really, I want to know—because, personally, I’m terrified. This past weekend, the Canadian Association of Journalists once again presented the Harper government with its tongue-in-cheek Code of Silence Award—recognizing Canada’s most secretive government or publicly funded agency. “This was the overwhelming choice,” CAJ president Hugo Rodrigues told the crowd at Saturday night’s awards. “The death grip on information has long frustrated journalists in this country, but it may now be reaching a point where the public at large is not only empathetic, but shares it.”
I’m not confident that’s true. When I think of the Harper government’s systemic and deliberate secrecy, I often think of my childhood monster. When I was four, The Green Hand lived in the guestroom kitty corner from my bedroom. Each night, it loomed big and warty—toxic green, twice the size of a grown-up!—ready to snatch and eat my parents, or me if I was foolish enough to leave my bed. (I never was.) For an entire year’s worth of sleeps, I stayed awake under the soft glow of my nightlight, agonizing over the Hand. My parents were never scared at all—they slept soundly and purposefully through it all.
In many ways, it’s the press’s fault the public hasn’t seen the government’s overarching secrecy as the monster under the bed (or guestroom). We’ve let them fall to sleep safely every night, when the breadth and depth of Harper’s secrecy should be keeping them up. Certainly, there is nothing make believe here: the Harper government’s secrecy is real. It deserves the dubious distinction for its calculated efforts to universally hamstring the press—from the benign to the explosive, nobody within the federal government will respond with more than pat answers to a reporter’s requests, if at all, and even then it’s usually in an email. There are some scary behind the scenes machinations to control what information makes it into the public sphere.
I’m murky, though, on whether the public really cares about all the muzzling, or even believes it exists. I’m even less sure of why that may be the case, or how to reverse all this apathy. Perhaps too many journalists have avoided reporting just how scary the situation is—whether out of fear for seeming too inside baseball, or fear of losing access, just plain fear, or something else. Ask any journalist and you’re likely to get a different answer. Now that we’re ready to shine a light on the monster, though, I wonder if the public is really ready to look and be scared.