A special team put in place by Gen. Rick Hillier to ensure information requested by the public doesn't put troops in Afghanistan at risk has turned its sights on a new security threat -- military records about garbage being chucked overboard from navy ships, and files on contracts awarded to lobbyists, some alleged to have special access to Gen. Hillier himself.For sheer abuse of the access-to-information system, it's hard to top the italicized example: a committee appointed by Hillier is being asked to find national-security excuses to justify the suppression of documents whose main value is in their ability to shed light on Hillier's own suspected wrongdoing. And while most of the other examples aren't quite that stark, it seems glaringly obvious that the SJS is being asked to deal with matters which have absolutely nothing to do with the committee's stated purpose.
Such records are among those documents being sent for special review to the general's Strategic Joint Staff, or SJS, to ensure that the information, to be eventually released publicly, doesn't violate security...
(A)ccording to Gen. Hillier and defence deputy minister Ward Elcock, the information is being subjected to rigorous reviews to protect the men and women fighting in Afghanistan.
But a list of records sent to the SJS for such a review, and obtained by the Citizen, tells a somewhat different story. Among the files is a Defence Department analysis of how strict guidelines preventing garbage from being dumped overboard is affecting the navy's operations and policies. Another is for a report on how many medals were handed out during the military's mission to help Hurricane Katrina victims in the U.S.
Records requested on the contracts given to lobbyists, some alleged to have special access to Gen. Hillier, were also sent to the Strategic Joint Staff, which reports to the general. The general has in the past denied that the lobbyists, all former senior officers, have any special access to his office...
The data provided to the Citizen shows that over a four-and-a half-month period around 250 files were sent to the SJS, the bulk of those associated with Afghanistan.
But also sent to the team were records to be released to the public on the situation in Darfur, the deployment of a Canadian general to Iraq, the number of soldiers used to protect the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the mysterious death of Royal Military College cadet Joe Grozelle, the military's exclusion of personnel because of their race or gender, the recent death of a peacekeeper in Lebanon, and e-mails about left-wing defence commentator Steve Staples.
While the Information Commissioner's office is the midst of an investigation, it seems all too likely that any details which might be turned up will themselves be suppressed to the greatest extent possible. Which means that the only viable way to make a dent in the current level of secrecy is to make it clear to both Hillier and his new minister that they'll face no less political heat for trying to keep the Canadian public in the dark than for whatever it is that they're hiding.