No matter who forms the government, they will learn and keep the state secrets. Having held a Secret clearance for these past four decades I will let it lapse this year because I no longer need it. Thinking about that this morning, brought me to the point of wondering what really ought to be and ought not to be withheld from the public.
What does the public want to know? What should the public know?
If I was the responsible cabinet minister would I classify and withhold what my department knows about the risks of a bio-agent escape from Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health (CSCHAH)? Or an Ebola epidemic in Toronto? Or an earthquake in the Lower Mainland? It is public knowledge that there are plans to inform everyone after an incident, but should the public be entitled to know the risks in advance? (We were informed of the CSCHAH researcher who was trying to smuggle 22 vials of Ebola into the USA – after he was arrested at the border. He was going to a new job at a US defence research lab and didn’t want to start from scratch.)
Up the ante a notch. Should the public be informed of the threat and our vulnerabilities to state-sponsored terrorism, foreign intentions in the Arctic, or home-grown armed anti-democratic movements? Should the public be informed that xxxxxx xxxxxx xxx xxxx is xxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxx and xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx? There is no doubt that at least one of the many responsible agencies is keeping tabs but the questions are: Should we know? Do we want to know?
Up the ante again. Suppose the members of a government committee are made aware of a particular threat or specific vulnerability involving the Canadian military. And suppose that the only meaningful response involves a new and expensive capability. Can that knowledge now be used – without revealing the classified bits – to appeal to the voting public? Could one party decide that providing this new capability and committing to the expense is part of their party platform while another party decides that more votes can be garnered by pushing a peace-dividend stance? Which party gets the votes and which party is being responsibly open with the public? Don’t lie if you want my vote.
Up the ante one more time. The US Navy has recently implemented new guidelines for the reporting of UFO’s. In the past, it was “if you see it, you can’t say it – because we don’t want to know – and it will harm your career.” Now, it’s more like “we’re listening – please tell us”. That’s a significant change. Why now?
I want to know about Shag Harbour, but the official Canadian Government site says, “There is no trace of the RCMP reports of this sighting in the files. The Department of National Defence has identified this sighting as unsolved, and the only documentation that exists in the files is a DND memo” with no date, no address, no signature. Official policy of the Canadian Government is to release reports of UFO’s to the press and public when requested – and, I suppose, if they can be found or if they aren’t classified.
So, what do you want to know?