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In Canada, nothing good comes from secrecy

This statement was originally published on cjfe.org on 2 November 2014.

By Jim Poling

Today, the Hamilton Spectator published a 32-page exclusive story that involves the 1983 murder of mobster Domenic Racco. The case involves a 16-year fight for information that went as high as the Supreme Court of Canada. The Spec, using access to information legislation, got sections of an Ontario Provincial Police report that investigated allegations of police misconduct stemming from events that led two Hamilton men to be wrongfully convicted. The series raises many troubling questions about police, justice and freedom of information.

The story is called "Railroaded" and is a true-crime exclusive written by Steve Buist with photo and video work by Barry Gray.

"Railroaded" raises serious and troubling questions about our justice system and freedom of information.

“I like to paraphrase, the late U.S. Supreme Court judge Louis Brandeis who once wrote that sunlight is the best disinfectant,” says Buist. “Information is our sunlight. But the light can only shine brightest when there is timely and reasonable access to information, particularly the information that belongs to us as citizens of a municipality, a province or the country. Frankly, that's not happening nearly as well as it could and should.”

Someone murdered Domenic Racco 31 years ago. Despite several trials and six convictions, including two wrongful convictions, we still don't know who.

A judge involved in one of the murder trials chastised police. The Crown and the Ontario Provincial Police started a criminal probe of the Hamilton and Halton police departments. In 1998, the OPP produced a 318-page report, much of which has still not been released.

It's troubling that for 16 years, information in the report has been guarded and key sections kept from public scrutiny. It's troubling that taxpayers have paid public salaries to keep much of this information from public view.

Little good comes of secrecy, especially when it involves Canada's justice system.

How could so much important evidence never make it to trial and why are there no consequences for that? How can police investigate police and remain impartial? Why does information crucial to that investigation remain sheltered from the public? How is it that government and justice officials can remain silent?

Accessing government information is Byzantine, expensive and unwieldy.

Citizens in a contemporary democracy that is fair, transparent and independent should not have to beg government or institutions to access information. It should not take 16 years and a fight at the Supreme Court of Canada to access our information.

Jim Poling is Managing Editor at the Hamilton Spectator.

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