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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 22 September 2005
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles

Greetings Readers

Gordon A. Watts My visitor from Australia

The highlight of my past week had to be my playing host during the brief, but active visit of Nick Vine Hall. Nick arrived at Vancouver Airport from Sydney, Australia, at 10:45 am Wednesday 14 September, and left again a scant 36 hours later. It was my pleasure to have him as an overnight guest in my home.

Nick has just written a book about the life and times of his four times great grandfather William ROUBEL (c1781-1846), a lawyer of London, England, and politician of Prince Edward Island and Pictou, Nova Scotia. He was on his way to Charlottetown, P.E.I. where he was to speak about his book and his ancestor on 17 September 2005.

Nick is an author, genealogist, radio broadcaster, publisher and maritime historian. He has for 30 years been especially interested in the records of French Huguenots. A Fellow of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland (since 1983), Society of Australian Genealogists (since 1984) and the Utah Genealogical Association (since 1986), he is the author of 31 publications. The best known is Tracing Your Family History in Australia - a National Guide to Sources, of which some 30,000 copies have been printed.

Nick has been "Resident Genealogist" on ABC radio across Australia for 26 years and has broadcast over 2,000 programs in that country and on dozens of overseas stations in the UK and America. He was once a guest in the 1980s on "The Larry King Show" in Washington DC, reaching 50 million listeners from the Virgin Islands to Mexico. His regular broadcasts in Australia now reach an estimated one million listeners. Nick has earned his full time living as a genealogist since 1979 and has been invited to speak at dozens of genealogical conferences in Australia, America, Canada, England, Ireland, New Zealand, China and Japan.

Descended from a long line of master mariners, Nick has been a maritime historian for many years specializing in the field of ships pictures, especially during the 19th and 20th centuries. He's a specialist in onomastics (i.e. the science of origins and meanings of names, especially surnames). From 1978-1988, he was Director of the Society of Australian Genealogists in Sydney.

Of particular interest to me, since 1996 Nick has been Chairman of the Census Working Party of the Australasian Federation of Family History Organizations. As such he was a key player in the 20-year lobby to the Australian Government seeking to halt the automatic destruction of their Census records, and to see them retained for public release after a period of closure. That lobby was successful this year when the Australian government passed legislation to retain future Census records and, subject to an 'informed consent' provision, allow them to be released to public access after 99 years. Over the past several years, Nick and I have exchanged notes and ideas relating to our respective Census release campaigns.

Nick Vine Hall addresses meeting of BCGS members

Nick Vine Hall addresses meeting of BCGS members
Members of the British Columbia Genealogical Society were fortunate that Nick's whirlwind visit coincided with their regular monthly meeting on Wednesday evening. I am grateful to the BCGS for their cooperation on short notice, to rearrange their education schedule to accommodate Nick as a special guest speaker. Nick spoke about the reason for his trip to Canada at this time, and about resources for research in Australia - particularly what was available as substitutes for Census records. Those in the audience were amazed to hear about the large amount of information contained in Australia's vital records information - not just about the individual concerned, but about other family members as well. Nick answered many questions from those attending the meeting.
Following his talk Nick presented the British Columbia Genealogical Society with a copy of his book on research sources in Australia, and a CD version of his new book The Happy Huguenots - The French House of Roubel and Descendants in England, Scotland, Canada, America, India and Australia, 1500-2004 (3rd edn, Aug 2005). Diane Rogers received these on behalf of the BCGS. Nick Vine Hall makes presentation to Diane Rogers of  BCGS
Nick Vine Hall makes presentation to Diane Rogers of BCGS

Marnie Ingvaldson presents gift to Gordon Watts
I was pleasantly surprised when the British Columbia Genealogical Society presented me with a bottle of wine and a card expressing appreciation for the part I played in helping to regain public access to Historic Census records.
On Thursday, I took Nick to visit the Cloverdale Public Library, where there is what I believe to be one of the best genealogical research collections west of Ottawa. Librarian Judith Argent was thrilled to have Nick visit and autograph her personal copy of his book of Australian genealogical resources. Judith is mainly responsible for the genealogy section of the CPL and was pleased to give Nick a tour of their facilities, and to assist Nick in finding some items of his particular interest.

   Nick Vine Hall visits the Vancouver Maritime Museum Leaving the Cloverdale Public Library, we took a trip to the Vancouver Marine Museum where librarian Susan Buss gave Nick a personal tour of the library there (available by appointment only) and helped him find some information relating to his interest in ships, and pictures of ships. We followed this up by viewing a video on the historic voyage of the St. Roche through the North-West Passage, and exploring the vessel itself, which is on display and is the centrepiece of the Museum.

Nick's visit here was exciting and interesting. It was however, altogether too short. He has promised to return, and to stay longer next time. We look forward to that. Those interested in knowing more about Nick, genealogical research in Australia, where to find pictures of ships, award winning personalized family tree charts using the calligraphy and art of Nick's wife - Patricia Barth, and more, are invited to visit his website.

Researching Swedish ancestors

One aspect of the visit of Nick Vine Hall not covered above, because it is worthy of an article on it's own, was our visit to an event co-sponsored by the British Columbia Genealogical Society and the Scandinavian Centre in Burnaby, BC. Fresh from attending the FGS conference in Salt Lake City and then Seattle, were members of SwedGenTour 2005. This group included individuals representing the Federation of Swedish Genealogical Societies (founded in 1986 and representing about 160 genealogical societies), the Swedish National Archives, and Genline - a project started up in 1993 to digitize Sweden's historical church records and make them available to the general public via the most up to date information technology.

Nick Vine Hall with some members of SwedGenTour 2005 L.-R. Tommy Dahlberg (SVAR), Mariia Mähler (SVAR), Nick Vine Hall, Ingrid Månsso Lagergren (SVAR), Ted Rosval (FSGS), Dr. Penelope Christensen (BCGS)

I was interested in learning that the Swedish government has provided a great deal of funding for those providing, and therefore those seeking, genealogical information in Sweden. There is a wealth of information available, not necessarily online (although there is some of that), but on CDs. While Swedish legislation apparently prevents many databases from being accessible online, these restrictions do not seem to apply to that same information being made accessible on CDs. I was particularly interested when I noted the presence of two CD databases that contained the Censuses of Sweden for 1970 and 1980.

Some of the CDs available from the Federation of Swedish Genealogical Societies or the Swedish National Archives included the following:
  • Swedish Census 1890/1900 - Two CDs with databases having detailed information on anyone residing in Sweden in 1890 and 1900 respectively. More than 10 million individuals.
  • Emibas - A new database released just this month. It contains detailed information on roughly 1.1 million Swedish emigrants from 1840 - 1930. The brochure states it is "A direct highway to the Swedish church records." The information it holds on each individual emigrant, and the many different ways of searching it, is amazing.
  • Emigranten - A newly expanded version of a collection of emigration databases, including Swedish Passenger departure lists.
  • Swedish death index 1947 - 2003 - The third edition of the Swedish death index with more than 5 million individuals. Detailed information including date and place of birth and death, last known address, civil status, etc.
  • Swedish census 1970 - A database presenting the entire Swedish population of 1970. More than 8 million records.
  • Swedish census 1980 - A database presenting the entire Swedish population of 1980. More than 8.3 million records.
  • Svenska ortnamn - A geographical database with more than 410,000 records.
  • Rosenberg - A modern database version of a Swedish geographical dictionary from 1883 with many useful search options.
  • Grill - A database with information regarding the Swedish military organization 1682 - 1901, with information about regiments and soldiers.
  • Stockholm records - District name databases for those who have lived in the various districts of Stockholm.
  • "
  • The Swedish Church records - One of the most comprehensive and well-preserved systems of church records in the world. The Swedish National Archives now publish the records from 1860 to 1905. These records are continually published and it is expected the image database will be complete in 2007.
  • Tax Records 1642 - 1820 - Registers that contain all able persons, 15 to 62 years of age, with the exception of the court, the nobility and their servants who were exempted from taxes. Every person in the household is registered by name back to the end of the 18th century. Earlier records usually only named the head of the household. Records were drawn up annually and the database is searchable from county level and down to a single parish.
  • Released convicts - Two integrated databases on convicts released from a number of Swedish prisons from 1877 to 1925. One database is searchable on penitentiary, name, place and year of birth, place of residence and occupation. The other is an image database with photos of the convict, information on personal characteristics, crime committed and sentence.
  • Swedish Sailor registers - Swedish sailors, trade ships, their captains and owners, since 1752 were registered in about 50 Swedish ports. Ten of the port registers are computerized in searchable databases.
Of the several databases above that I saw demonstrated, I was impressed by the ease and speed of use, the number of different fields on which searches could be made, and the overall appearance of them. I particularly liked those databases that utilized a 'three-in-one' panel presentation whereby, when doing a search, you could simultaneously view a panel with the entire scrollable list of names, etc., a search results panel, and another panel where specific details of a highlighted individual were shown.

When viewing these databases, they came up in the Swedish language. However, each of the programs that I viewed could be easily switched between Swedish and English languages. The websites for the Swedish National Archives and the Federation of Swedish Genealogical Societies were also easily switched between Swedish and English. The Genline website came up in English.

I do not personally have any Swedish connections (that I am aware of), but for those who do I think they would find the value of many of these CDs well worth the purchase price.

LDS undertakes massive project

The following article was extracted from the Deseret Morning News of Friday, September 09, 2005. The original article can be viewed at,1249,605153189,00.html
    LDS to put microfilm in vaults on Internet Huge effort planned to index family history data

    By Carrie A. Moore E-mail:

    Deseret Morning News

    Ever wonder what's inside those secured vaults, owned by the LDS Church, positioned high inside the granite walls of Little Cottonwood Canyon?

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is working toward allowing anyone with Internet access to learn more than they've ever known before about the information contained on 2 million-plus rolls of microfilm housed there. Currently, the church is compiling searchable indexes to that information and will eventually make it available for free through an automated database on the Internet.

    The church excavated the vaults containing those records on property it purchased in the 1960s, providing a safe repository during the height of the Cold War for birth, marriage, death and census information it considers essential for the salvation of mankind after death. Now church leaders seek to make the information more readily available to the world.

    "The goal is to create (Internet-accessible) indexes to all the films we have in the vault. That's a long-term process and that's a lot of films," according to Paul Nauta, manager of public affairs for church's Web site. "We've not announced when people will begin to start seeing" the indexes.

    Those attending the annual Federation of Genealogical Societies' conference this week at the Salt Palace will get a "sneak preview" of the church's plans. As the project progresses over time, indexes to records from 110 nations previously stored on microfilm will become accessible to virtually anyone, anywhere, through the Internet via the touch of a few keystrokes.

    "We're showing people how we'll be creating indexes from those films. Sometime in the future we'll ask people to help us create the indexes and make them publicly available, and little by little we'll start to index the films from the vault like we did with the 1880 (U.S.) Census.

    "The challenge now is it takes a lot of people and a lot of time" to create such an index. "Currently, you have to look at images on paper or burn them on a CD and distribute those to index the data. We're moving the whole process to the Internet and this is a prototype of what that might look like. . . . That's what the biggest buzz is at the conference."

    Conference attendees are using a lab at the Salt Palace equipped with a number of computers to demonstrate the new automated database. The microfilm information includes birth, marriage, death and census records.

    New advances in indexing software utilities and applications mean the LDS Church "now has the ability to produce lots of indexes faster," than it did with previous databases it has digitized, including the 1880 U.S. Census. Making that database available online was a 12-year project, using tens of thousands of volunteers.

    In the future, the new technology "will provide automated indexing" for an ever-increasing number of microfilms "so people can readily search it from their homes."

    As the number of family history researchers continues to grow - one study showed 40 percent of Americans have done research on their family history and another said 90 percent have expressed interest - demand for online indexes that simplify searching for ancestors has soared, he said.

    How much time will it take to digitize all the films in the vault?

    "Let's put it this way, it will depend on how much volunteer help we get," Nauta said. "I think we can digitize the films to be indexed to stay up with demand, but much will depend on how many volunteers we can generate worldwide to index their records of interest. If, in a couple of years, we could get a million indexers worldwide, we could put a big dent" in the massive undertaking.

    The indexing demonstration and other planned improvements to the popular Web site are drawing standing-room-only crowds at the convention. The changes "will make great strides to simplify and increase the success of the family history experience," he said.

    Just when the first indexed information from the microfilms will become available online has not yet been announced. "We don't want to be swamped with people before we're ready to handle it," Nauta said.

    The new developments won't make more than 5,000 small family history centers housed in LDS chapels worldwide obsolete. Previously, those looking for information contained on the microfilms stored in the church's Granite Mountain Records Vault had to request that copies of information on the films be sent to their local center. At some point in the future, that likely won't be necessary any longer, he said, but "that will continue to be a role for a long time.

    "Family history centers will continue to be a mainstay" for accessing information on the microfilms for some time to come.

    As more of those records become digitized and indexes become available, the role of the local centers, he said, "will probably change. Some people have no Internet access, and they'll use them for that. The role of the family history centers will evolve over time to help people get started" with their research because "many people don't know how to do that. They will become more fundamental to help people get and stay organized, and to answer questions they have doing their research."

    Many of those in town to attend the conference are also making use of the church's renowned Family History Library, less than a block from the Salt Palace. Hours have been extended to accommodate guests, with the library open from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. through Saturday.

    "It's an exciting time for family history," Nauta said. "Those just developing this kind of research as a hobby will never have any appreciation for how far this industry has evolved, even in the past 10 years."
Following Katrina

For many years I have read about, and watched television reports about the severe storms and hurricanes that the area in which I live fortunately manages to avoid. Mother Nature is capable of great destruction, far worse in most cases, than humankind has been able to devise. Hurricane Katrina has recently demonstrated the truth of this.

Reading about hurricanes and storm damage in areas about which you have no specific knowledge is however, far different than reading the same about areas where you have been and are familiar with. Knowing an area that this has happened to puts a different perspective on things.

As a young man I was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force. In 1962 I was sent for training at Keesler AFB at Biloxi, Mississippi - one of the areas that Katrina saw fit to visit. I was there from the middle of May until 30 October 1962. On the day I left there (coincidentally my 21st birthday), heading northwest I passed many double-semi trucks loaded with munitions heading south. This was at a time when the United States and Cuba were at odds that threatened to break out into war.

My recollection of the area of Biloxi is that it was very flat. It is on a relatively narrow spit of land running roughly east to west, with the open end on the east. Along the 26 miles of man-made beach, stretching west past Gulfport to the entrance of Saint Louis Bay, there is very little in the line of obstructions that could slow down the stormsurge from the Gulf of Mexico that, if memory serves correctly, was reported to be 30 feet high.

My recollection of the terrain was reinforced by using Google Earth to view a satellite shot of the area that showed the runway at Keesler AFB having an average elevation of about 12 to 16 feet above sea level. The surrounding area is not much higher in elevation - many places being much lower. I can picture in my mind, Katrina's 30-foot stormsurge washing right across Biloxi, into the Back Bay of Biloxi, and beyond.

During, and following, any natural disaster such as Katrina has turned out to be, (or any man-made disaster) the first consideration is the safety and well being of the survivors, retrieval of those who did not survive, and then the cleanup. Those who are not involved in genealogical or historical endeavours seldom think of the recovery and restoration of records, and restoration, if possible, of historical buildings etc. The following message, extracted from a post of 9 September 2005, to the Association of Professional Genealogists mail list, details some of the efforts being made in this direction.

    As emergency officials continue to find and rescue survivors, recover bodies, and clean up the wreckage from Hurricane Katrina, which devastated a significant portion of the Gulf Coast nearly two weeks ago, efforts are also underway by various history and archival organizations to pitch in and begin to survey the damage done to sites of historical significance and to preserve as much as possible. This rescue and salvage effort takes on special importance in a part of the country that is especially rich with historic sites, artifacts, and archives.

    In New Orleans, aerial photos indicate that the French Quarter is relatively dry and intact. Locations such as the Caf du Monde, Preservation Hall, and St. Louis Cathedral appear to have survived the brunt of the storm. Museum directors have also determined that the New Orleans Museum of Art, home to one of the most important collections in the south, has also been spared from severe damage.

    However, other sections of the city were not so fortunate. Virtually everything in the Latin Quarter and the Garden District suffered some damage. Preliminary reports indicate that the New Orleans Public Library was hit hard and its archive of city records, which are housed in the basement of the building, probably experienced flooding. At the New Orleans Notarial Archives, which hold some 40 million pages of signed acts compiled by notaries of new Orleans over three centuries, initial efforts to save historical documents were unsuccessful. A Swedish document salvage firm, hired by the archives to freeze-dry records to remove the moisture from them, was turned away by uniformed personnel as they attempted to enter the city. There are a considerable number of freezer trucks available as soon as they are allowed to access areas currently closed. In the case of both the public library and the notarial archives, time is of the essence as humidity, mold, and water damage may decimate these collections in a matter of days.

    Many of the city's oldest historic neighborhoods were completely lost to the floods. The U.S. Mint, which was once captured by the Confederate Army, is missing part of its roof, while uncertainty remains about the artefacts inside.

    Katrina has affected other important historic sites in Louisiana as well. Fort Jackson, located south of New Orleans, location of an important Civil War naval battle, has suffered extensive flooding. In addition, the Louisiana State Museum suffered moderate to extensive damage.

    In Mississippi, the Old Capitol Museum had a third of its copper roof blown off, resulting in the flooding of a storage room and exhibit area. Beauvoir, the home of Jefferson Davis, located in Biloxi, was virtually destroyed. Throughout the ravished parts of the Gulf Coast, numerous trees and old houses have been lost, in many cases with no hope of recovery. Many unanswered questions remain as to the condition of historical artifacts that were in private hands, or the condition of other archival collections that may have survived the floodwaters.

    As the recovery efforts continue, historical preservation teams will begin the long process of retrieving documents, photographs, and other important pieces of history that have helped to shape a nation. What follows is a summary of the emergency recovery and assistance efforts we know about. An emergency team from the National Park Service Museum Resource Center will soon be arriving in New Orleans to begin its preservation work, salvaging every artifact they possibly can and protecting them from mildew. They will be concentrating specifically on artifacts located at the Jazz Museum, the Louis Armstrong home, the archives at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park, and the Chalmette battlefield. The National Park Service has also assembled a technical leaflet entitled After the Flood: Emergency Stabilization and Conservation Methods, which offers suggestions on how to prevent additional damage and how to maintain historical integrity: .

    The Heritage Emergency Task Force is also stepping in to assist in the recovery. This task force was created for the purpose of assisting cultural heritage institutions in the protection of their collections in the event of natural disasters. Co-sponsored by Heritage Preservation, Inc. and the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), it includes over 30 federal agencies. At the present time, the task force is working to coordinate information with the various historical institutions along the Gulf Coast and are encouraging everyone to donate money to the Disaster Relief Fund, as health and safety remain the highest priorities. The FEMA web page at and the Heritage Emergency National Task Force webpage have links to hurricane response information posted that cover such topics as how to get aid (both individuals and governments), how to respond and salvage, and how to mitigate damage.

    The Library of Congress will be offering free rewash services to institutions impacted by the hurricane for motion picture films, provided that the film can be transported to the lab at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Those interested in the offer should contact Lance Watsky at .

    The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is making available $1 million in hurricane relief for Gulf Coast cultural resources. The emergency grants of up to $30,000 are being made available through the executive directors of the state humanities councils in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana and are available to libraries, museums, colleges, universities and other cultural and historical institutions affected by the hurricane. For additional information about the program, tap into .

    In order to help with assessing the damage that has been done to other historical institutions, the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), working with the American Association of Museums, has put together a "first reports" webpage that can be accessed at ; other information is being updated constantly at and at the AAM website at . The AASLH has also established a Historical Resources Recovery Fund in which 100% of the dollars secured will be used for the recovery of historical resources in the affected states. Additional information is available at . A disaster relief for museums web site established by the International Council on Museums (ICOM) also provides exhaustive and updated information on the effects of the disaster with regard to museums; visit the site at .

    The National Trust for Historic Preservation is also raising funds to assist in the recovery of historical properties and is looking for volunteers skilled in preservation, architecture, engineering, and small business development. People interested in serving on one of the assessment teams scheduled to go to affected areas when allowed in should go to the Trust's webpage at for further information.

    The Society of American Archivists (SAA) has begun a list of volunteers willing to help with disaster recovery. Interested parties can visit ; additional information including a joint statement by the archival community can be viewed at . One of the first organizations to act especially swiftly in efforts to assist is the Society of Southwest Archivists (SSA). That organization has established a weblog to share information about colleagues and others in Louisiana and Mississippi who have been affected by the hurricane. It can be viewed at or contact Brenda Gunn at for additional information. One bit of good news is that there do not appear to be any archivists missing - all have been accounted for and have reported in to their home institutions.

    The Organization of American Historians (OAH) along with the American Historical Association and the Southern Historical Association have joined hands to establish a "historians to historians" message board; it is a place where historians can offer or request assistance. Several categories such as "Need help-housing" and "Need help-transportation" have been set up to facilitate communication and assistance. For the site, visit the OAH webpage at where the URL link (still under development at this writing) is prominently displayed.

    On the academic front, while many of the colleges and universities affected by Hurricane Katrina will soon resume classes, Tulane University (information about Tulane is available at ) and Loyola University will remain closed until the spring semester in order to repair the damages to their infrastructure, technology, and communication systems. Students enrolled at both Tulane and Loyola are being encouraged to attend nearby schools and to transfer credits. The History News Network (HNN) has established a blog where the Tulane history students and faculty can communicate with each other. It can be viewed at . In addition, the Chronicle of Higher Education has created a webpage where affected colleges, associations, and government agencies providing assistance can post messages; go to .

    Colleges and Universities across the country are offering temporary admission for students directly affected by the hurricane and its aftermath. For example, some schools in Texas, where many residents of Louisiana fled, will allow out-of-state students to enroll at in-state tuition rates. The University of Miami has said that they will allow students to take classes there, collect tuition, and hold it in escrow for the colleges that the students would otherwise attend. The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History has also said that they would offer temporary positions to the faculty members of the affected universities.

    This information was provided by The National Coalition for History. This is a non-profit educational organization that provides leadership in history-related advocacy; it serves as the profession's national voice in the promotion of history and archives, and acts as a clearinghouse of news and information of interest to history-related professionals. Membership in the history coalition is open to organizations that share our concern for history and archives. For information on how your history/archive organization can become a member, visit our website at and click on the "Join the Coalition" web link.
Legal action of the Information Commissioner

Individuals who submitted complaints to the Information Commissioner, regarding the refusal of Statistics Canada to release Historic Census records for 1911, recently received notice that the legal action by the Information Commissioner on their behalf has been terminated. While to some extent disappointing, that news was not unexpected. As was done with similar complaints for the 1906 Census, when the records were finally released and made available through Library and Archives Canada, the legal action was made redundant.

To be honest, I had mixed feelings when Bill S-18 was finally passed on 28 June 2005. I was certainly happy that we would finally have the access to the Historic Census records we had fought for, for seven long years. On the other hand, I would liked to have seen what the courts would have said had the action of the Information Commissioner proceeded to conclusion. It is my belief that the courts would have upheld our position that the existing legislation stated our right to access these records, and that Statistics Canada was wrong to refuse the return of control of them to the National Archivist. All this is moot however, as we will now never know how the courts would have ruled.

More from the Information Commissioner

John M. Reid, soon to be outgoing Information Commissioner of Canada, addressed a conference of the Canadian Newspaper Association (CNA) called to address concerns regarding the Access to Information Act. Mr. Reid was appointed as Information Commissioner for a seven year term that was due to expire 30 June 2005. On this date, the government, apparently reluctantly, extended his term of office by three months, and later by a further six months so that his term now runs to next March. We cannot help but think that the reluctance of the government to extend his term of office was because he has performed his appointed task too well.

The following article was extracted from the Toronto Star of 9 September 2005. The original article can be viewed online (Sept. 2005).
    Information access comes under fire, Secrecy a problem, watchdog says

    Outlines changes he'd like in law


    OTTAWA-The federal government isn't taking seriously the reforms needed to remove secrecy from all levels of government in Canada, according to federal information commissioner John Reid.

    He was speaking at a special conference the Canadian Newspaper Association (CNA) convened here yesterday to examine the Access to Information Act, which governments haven't abided by, provoking harsh criticism in recent months.

    The act is intended to ensure transparency in government, so Canadians can see the rationale behind government decisions.

    But a test of the freedom-of-information laws the CNA sponsored earlier this year found political interference and the bureaucracy's culture of secrecy to blame for governments' frequent denial to release information that those laws stipulate the public has a right to know, especially when media make the request. Both Reid and the CNA have called for changes to the access-to-information laws to ensure such refusals cannot be made.

    Although the federal justice ministry has promised a new bill this fall, Reid points to Prime Minister Paul Martin's proposal to merge the two roles of the information commissioner and the federal privacy commissioner into one and questions just how committed Ottawa is to making those reforms.

    "It might cause a cynical person to believe that the government has thrown a merger idea on the table now, merely to justify stalling the reform process until the next election," said Reid, who went on to say Martin's proposal is misguided.

    The CNA yesterday called on Reid to formally and urgently investigate the way governments put up barriers when the media requests information.

    "Freedom of information and freedom of the press are two freedoms hewn from the same stone," said Anne Kothawala, president and CEO of the CNA.

    "To impede one is to frustrate the other. To deny access is to prevent us from playing the watchdog role that citizens tell us is our core function and their main expectation from us."

    The Commons committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics earlier this year asked Reid to provide them with a draft bill outlining the reforms he would like to see adopted. He outlined the general framework of that bill yesterday.

    Reid warned that access to information is under serious threat in Canada. It is therefore vital that the pressure is kept on the federal government to reform access to information, especially during the upcoming federal election campaign.

    He also urged pressure on Justice John Gomery, who is preparing his report on the federal sponsorship scandal, which will include recommendations intended to make governments more transparent to prevent future misuse of public funds.
The full text of Mr. Reid's speech to the CAN is available online (Sept 2005).

Your input requested

Your comments and constructive criticism regarding this column are welcomed. I wish this column to be a collaborative effort. If you have tips or suggestions for future articles I would like to hear them. Please contact me directly at my email address below, and use Gordon Watts Reports in the subject line.

Until next time.

Gordon A. Watts,

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Norway Bay United & Anglican Cemetery
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