Christopher Majka is a biologist, environmentalist, policy analyst, and arts advocate. A personal friend of Franke James, he refers to her as follows:
A wicked thorn in the side of Stephen Harper; a woman fiercely passionate about the pressing need to address climate change; a witty and imaginative artist who would not acquiesce to having her work silenced and censored by the Harper government; and an activist and educator working to empower citizens and galvanize progressive change in our society.
Majka goes on to say that “the Canadian landscape has become highly fertile ground for political humour.” Franke James’ recent visual essay entitled Games Bureaucrats Play certainly illustrates that Canada, and the Harper government specifically, is now an easy target for all of us who care about our country and the world we live in.
News that the Privy Council had zero documents in response to 23 requests for access to information made me laugh (and roll my eyes).
“The fact that the Senate expense scandal left no public paper trail in the prime minister’s own bureaucracy — not an email, memo or even a sticky note — provides more evidence that the promised new era of accountability is really the golden age of secrecy.” Article by Greg Weston, CBC: “Senate expense scandal left no paper trail, really?“
Yes, those darn Bureaucats are up to their old tricks! I am very familiar with their methods to dodge accountability having submitted over ten ATIP requests since 2011. Now you might think that since I received 2,172 documents from four different Federal departments (including the Privy Council) it was easy. No, no, no, no. Far from it. Fortunately, I have what my parents used to call “stick-to-it-ive-ness”, so despite being told — by Environment Canada — that there were zero documents, I kept on their trail.
Read more below in excerpts from the chapter, Games Bureaucats Play, from my new book, Banned on the Hill. They are all games I experienced firsthand, while digging for the truth about the Harper government’s interference in my climate change art show in 2011.
Games Bureaucats Play
The Hot Potato
Bureaucats are cunning! In this internal government email we see how easy it is to avoid creating records by using phone calls and having face-to-face meetings…
In the email chain above, Vlatka Ljubenko, the Cultural Officer at the Canadian Embassy in Croatia, (who was at the center of the whole messy Banned on the Hill affair) is writing to Peter Egyed, Councillor for Public Relations, Culture and Academic Relations at the Canadian Embassy in Rome. They are discussing what newsJeremy Wallace, Deputy Director of DFAIT’s Climate Change Office had to share about my proposed art show in Europe. By having phone calls they are able to dodge accountability. Critics have asked that the ATI laws be strengthened so all government decisions are recorded in writing.
In fact, Bureaucats are SO concerned about leaving a paper trail that they will (sometimes) hold their nose and call you directly. My tip is to act like an investigative reporter and have a tape recorder handy — and then fire back a call report – thus creating that paper trail that they didn’t want to leave. See my “Hot Potato” email to Tristan Landry, Director of DFAIT Media Relations thanking him for his phone call…
Sometimes the Ottawa masters, and their sneaky little Bureaucats, slip up. They accidentally write down the truth. That’s when the black markers come out to censor whatever they foolishly put in writing. Art about climate change? That must be labelled a dangerous threat to international security and dirty oil, S.15(1) International. If a Minister was involved that could be blacked out under section 21(1)(a) or 21(1)(b). I’d wager that embarrassment to the government is a major reason discussions about my art were blacked out!
Dogged Pursuit of the Bureaucats
Getting 2,172 documents required me to doggedly pursue the Bureaucats. Environment Canada in particular was very reluctant to admit they had ever discussed my file. I received three official notices over a five month period telling me that “no records were found”. (Pierre Bernier, ATIP coordinator for EC letters dated January 20, 2012, February 27, 2012, May 22, 2012)
But I knew that was not true. They had to have SOMETHING — because ATIP documents from the Department of Foreign Affairs showed conversations with high-level officials at Environment Canada!
Finally, in February 2013, after more than one year of pursuit, I received 149 documents from Environment Canada. See The Curious Case of the Disappearing Redactions illustration above which contrasts two identical documents — one with white redactions and the other with gray. Hmmm… why would Environment Canada want to hide the extent of their redactions???
Surely the Bureaucats must be accountable to some authority?
On April 4, 2013, I wrote to Suzanne Legault, the Head of the Office of the Information Commissioner seeking her assistance…
Amazingly the OIC quickly responded! And they assigned an investigator! Woohoo! I was optimistic that they would get the redactions uncovered and secure the missing documents. The investigator was confident she’d get to the bottom of it quickly. However time drags on. It’s now six months later and there’s no news.
Which really piques my curiosity… What IS under those redactions? What is the government HIDING?
Below is one of the Bureaucat emails I’m seeking to have uncovered. Read Canadian Trade Commissioner Thomas Marr’s email for yourself and see if you can guess what’s under the black marker…
Mr. Marr’s email (with his very undiplomatic subject line) inspired this drawing PLUS a whole CHAPTER in my book Banned on the Hill…
The bottom line in all the government’s meddling and censorship of my art was revealed in this internal government email:
“The artist’s work dealt mostly with climate change, and was advocating a message that was contrary to
the government’s policies on the subject.” Jean-Bruno Villeneuve, Spokesperson, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
The spokesperson’s words are memorably featured on my “Do Not Talk” poster which was up on the streets of Ottawa — and will be going to more cities in 2013. Stay tuned! We want to get a lot more people talking about climate change! And Orwellian Ottawa, through their oppressive tactics, is helping!
Want to see more games that Bureaucats play? Buy Banned on the Hill…