Frank Work, Alberta’s information and privacy commissioner, is a rare official voice for sanity and common sense.
Work is his own man. Since his appointment in 2002, he has never kowtowed to the provincial Conservative government or been afraid to stake out a separate position from it on the rights of Albertans to enjoy their privacy or have access to information about their government.
His office often aggressively takes the side of citizens trying to pry loose information to which they are entitled, not the side of officials who would like to make getting public information as expensive and difficult as possible.
So when he speaks about an issue, Albertans — and other Canadians too — should pay attention.
Yesterday, Work’s office issued a characteristically and commendably terse news release advising Albertans not to be in a big hurry to give up their rights and freedoms because they fear crime. After all, he pointed out, Statistics Canada has reported once again that crime rates continue to fall.
“Decreasing crime rates have been a trend across North America in recent years, yet we continue to regard surveillance as a means of curbing crime,” Work’s release stated.
“If we are frightened by the thought of crime, we are more willing to give up privacy and other civil liberties if we think it will make us safer,” he observed.
The release concluded: “Work hopes that decreasing crime rates will prompt politicians and the public to question the need for increased surveillance in the name of crime prevention. Work adds, ‘Surveillance on our streets does not prevent crime, but simply disperses it away from the glare of the lens.'”
What a breath of fresh air this is compared with the usual “crime fighting” folderol we receive from Conservative politicians of both the federal and provincial persuasion.
For one of many examples, just consider the Harperite Conservatives’ ludicrously named “public safety agenda,” which is all about stampeding voters by inciting their natural fear of crime and has very little to do with actually alleviating the (shrinking) amount of crime Canadians face.
To stretch a point, isn’t our federal government’s habit of ignoring or willfully misinterpreting unbiased data produced by Statistics Canada precisely what is behind their crusade to eliminate the census long form, debasing the quality of material that StatsCan can collect and strengthening their opportunities to tell us the Big Lies that advance their neo-liberal agenda?
After all, when Statistics Canada — which has been ranked the world’s No. 1 statistical agency many times and takes pride in producing sound and reliable data — tells us crime is on the decline, there is the danger that Canadians will listen to citizens like Work and resist the Conservative agenda to restrict our civil liberties and our limit access to the sound factual data we need to refute their claims.
Frank Work is an Alberta original and a rare provincial asset. As such, it’s astonishing that Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach’s Tories haven’t moved to replace him with someone more compliant.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.