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Federal Court rules against professor Amir Attaran's access to information request

(CJFE/IFEX) - The following is a 3 April 2009 CJFE press release:

CJFE Disappointed by Decision in Access to Information Case

(Toronto, April 3, 2009) Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is dismayed by the Federal Court decision on an application brought by Ottawa professor Amir Attaran. Attaran had applied to the court to review the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade's (DFAIT) redacting of annual human rights reports on Afghanistan. The Honourable Justice Kelen concluded that in just two cases, where information had already been made public, should DFAIT now disclose this information.

CJFE had intervened in this case due to our concerns that access to information, vital to the Canadian public, is being denied. Amir Attaran had requested DFAIT's Annual Human Rights Reports from 2002-2006 to help him in his research on the treatment of Afghan detainees. Attaran conducts research into this issue as part of his academic research on human rights and international development, for which he has been consulted by media outlets, government departments and politicians, as well as the Manley Panel, a panel convened by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Canada's future role in Afghanistan.

A crucial part of the decision rests on Justice Kelen's agreement with DFAIT officials that "negative references or criticisms of Afghan political, security and police authorities would undermine those relationships and become a hurdle for the Canadian government representatives on the ground in Afghanistan." Justice Kelen accepted DFAIT's argument that public reporting by Canada on the torture of Afghan detainees would damage its relationships with Afghan officials, even though other countries such as the U.S., the U.K. and even Afghanistan itself, through the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, have done so, apparently without any such damage being suffered.

CJFE agrees with the comments in the April 3 edition of The Globe and Mail by Bev Oda, International Cooperation Minister, "it is a glaring example of where the international community has to sit down and work with the government on open, transparent processes." Oda was speaking about a different matter - the news that Afghanistan has just passed laws severely restricting the human rights of women in Afghanistan. The government she was talking about was the Afghan government, but we believe that the open, transparent processes she calls for are equally relevant and necessary in Canada.

CJFE is an association of more than 300 journalists, editors, publishers, producers, students and others who work to promote and defend free expression and press freedom in Canada and abroad.

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