Madam Speaker, I rise to speak today to Bill C-216, an act to amend the Access to Information Act. The amendment aims at changing the definition of government institutions in the Access to Information Act to include any department or ministry of the Government of Canada, any body or office listed or any crown corporation as defined in the Administration Act.
I support the spirit of the bill if the spirit is indeed to provide Canadians with greater access and knowledge about the operations of government. As a New Democrat I support greater access to information and greater accountability of government for spending decisions. I hope that everyone in the House feels the same.
However, I would like to see an amendment to the bill which would exclude the CBC from its jurisdiction. The reasons which make this exclusion necessary are obvious. If the CBC were to be subject to the Access to Information Act it would no longer be able to operate as a public broadcaster at arm's length from the government. This would undermine the legitimacy and credibility of the CBC which is mandated by parliament to provide a public broadcasting system pursuant to the Broadcasting Act.
If Bill C-216 defines the CBC as a government institution then any information the CBC has in its possession would be accessible to everyone. This could seriously hurt journalistic credibility and it would seriously hurt the public's access to important information which we depend on our public broadcaster to provide.
Let me make a case in point. Last month the CBC did an excellent series of radio documentaries on the growing influence of the Hells Angels in Canadian society. This program would not have seen the light of day if dozens of individuals had not been guaranteed anonymity. Their safety, their lives and the lives of their families depended on the anonymity provided by the corporation.
Current affairs and news programming depend on an intricate system of secure information, guaranteeing sources, building up contacts and guaranteeing confidentiality. All of these processes would be made impossible if the CBC became open to scrutiny under the Access to Information Act.
Under the bill in its present form, the CBC would no longer be able to protect its sources. All past, present and future records under all CBC departments would be subject to access applications. A public broadcaster cannot operate in this fashion.
This is not to say that the operations of the CBC should remain outside of public scrutiny. The CBC is fully accountable in terms of providing information to parliament and to the Canadian public. There are ways of holding the CBC accountable which do not undermine the very mandate with which it has been charged.
If adopted in its present form, Bill C-216 would substantially impede the CBC's journalistic and programming capabilities. I will therefore not be able to support it.