It is unlikely officials in North Bay had any idea the municipality was in the running for the Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy.

See original story: North Bay makes shortlist of ‘most secretive municipal governments in Canada’

Good news for the citizens of North Bay — this is often the case and actions leading to a repeat of the dubious distinction is typically not a desired course of action for those recognized.

“The best thing that could come out of this for the communities that were named is questions getting asked [and] the leadership of the town or the city re-examine how it deals with this matter to be more transparent and provide the public with access to information to which it has a right.”

So says Jim Turk, director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University, who explained the idea for the “honour,” came about as a means to draw attention to the need for access to information three years ago.

There has been no acknowledgment of the matter by City Hall and Mayor Al McDonald exited North Bay Council Chambers without offering the typical media availability following Tuesday’s meeting.

“We’re not trying to be vindictive or punitive,” responded Turk when asked if he considered the unwelcome recognition to be “shaming” the municipalities.

“It does shame them but the purpose is to encourage them to engage in better practices…If we were going to have any success in getting the government to provide the kind of transparency the public deserves and needs in a democratic society, we had to draw more attention to the issue,” said Turk.

How did North Bay end up on this list?

“There were a number of nominations, [and the jury] felt the Town of Erin was the most deserving recipient of the award,” clarified Turk, “but they felt there were four or five other towns where there were serious enough concerns that they should be mentioned.”

Turk observed Canada ranks the lowest of any major English-speaking country in international rankings when it comes to access to information legislation.

A call for nominations is issued each year asking for submissions from the public outlining resistance faced in getting information from a public body.

A panel comprised of representatives from the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Centre for Free Expression, News Media Canada, and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression examine the nominations for the Code of Silence Award for outstanding achievement in government secrecy.

The award is given annually in each of four categories — federal, provincial, municipal and police services. The Town of Erin’s “win,” and North Bay’s inclusion on the honourable mention list for municipalities was the first announcement of the four categories for 2019.