2017 Grace-Pépin Access to Information Award Presentation

Speaking notes for Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada

Ottawa, Ontario
September 26, 2017

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Welcome everyone to our Right to Know Conference.

International Right to Know Day is celebrated every year on September 28th to promote our right to access government information. There are activities all over the world and across Canada this week to inform Canadians about their right and to engage them to actively use and protect it. This conference aims to do exactly this by examining access to information as a fundamental human right.

We are also celebrating the right to information by highlighting the achievements of a person or an organization which advances access to information in Canada through the Grace-Pépin Award. I created this award in 2011 with my provincial and territorial counterparts to commemorate the former Information Commissioner, John Grace, and Marcel Pépin, the founding president of Quebec’s Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec. The purpose of the award is to celebrate those who have made significant contributions to access to information rights and whose work had positive impacts on access to information in Canada. Past recipients include:

  • Elizabeth Denham, UK Information Commissioner
  • Ken Rubin and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
  • Professor Alasdair Roberts, leading researcher in the field of access to information
  • Laurence Kearley, Chair of the Canadian Access and Privacy Association
  • Darrell Evans, President and Executive Director, Canadian Institute for Information and Privacy Studies Society
  • The Information Access and Protection of Privacy Certificate Program, Faculty of Extension, University of Alberta

We received five fantastic nominations for the award this year. I would like to thank the members of this year’s selection committee for their time and for carefully reviewing each nomination. A special thank you to:

  • Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada
  • Sean Holman, Journalism Professor, Mont Royal University
  • Peter Di Gangi, Research Director, Algonquin Nations Secretariat
  • Toby Mendel, Executive Director, Centre for Law and Democracy

The 2017 award is very special to me. This is the last time I will present the award as Information Commissioner of Canada. By a strange twist of faith, I am presenting this award to someone I encountered very early in my access to information journey in Lima, Peru during an international workshop organized by the Carter Center. It is there that I first met this year's recipient, Mr. Darce Fardy. I, the neophyte, and he, the ATI expert. I immediately bonded with Darce for many reasons that will soon become apparent to all of you.

Darce’s dedication to access to information has spanned six decades. His work as a journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the Review Officer for Nova Scotia and as the founder and president of the Nova Scotia Right to Know Coalition is marked by dedicated years of advocacy for government transparency and accountability.

Darce was a champion of access to information throughout his 43-year career at the CBC. This included being responsible for The Fifth Estate, Marketplace, Venture, The Journal and Man Alive where he and his team shone a light on government activities from coast to coast to coast.

From the CBC, Darce was appointed as the first full-time Review Officer of Nova Scotia, a position we now know as the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Nova Scotia. As Darce wrote in the Chronicle-Herald: “My business was journalism. I was with the CBC for 40 years in four provinces. When I retired I was offered the opportunity to become Nova Scotia’s first freedom of information review officer. For a journalist this was like striking gold. I was to receive applications from people asking me to review government decisions made in response to their requests for information.”

I know first-hand the successes and challenges of the job, but Darce had it tough: launching the Office with no office space, no computer, no government support, no staff and little money – although Darce says that he would have done the job for “lunch money.” He was more than successful at starting this office. Over 10 years, he wrote 150 reports, travelled the province to promote the right of access, and supported the work of coordinators by providing them with ongoing training. He truly is an access to information champion.

Darce left the information commissioner job when he was in his prime at the age of 72. Instead of retiring, he founded the Nova Scotia Right to Know Coalition and became its president until 2012. The Coalition actively helped users make access requests and promoted the right of access. Michael Karanicolas, the current president of the Right to Know Coalition, stated in his letter of support for this nomination: “Throughout his work with the Coalition, Darce was a tireless champion for the little guy, assisting requesters from every walk of life, and in particular helping those who were unfamiliar navigate the system.” The Coalition received a Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 2012.

Some of you may know that Darce was diagnosed with dementia shortly after he stepped down from the Right to Know Coalition. True to his calling, he has decided to share with others his experience in these challenging times. Always a storyteller, Darce has been documenting this journey with columns in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. As he wrote: “I’m gearing up for another round.” I encourage you to read his columns as they reflect Darce’s wit and his skill at documenting the world.

Darce has had an incredible career but it could not have been possible without the contributions of his wonderful wife, Dorothea. Dorothea has supported Darce throughout his career as a staunch defender of the right of access.

Darce and Dorothea join us this afternoon by phone. Darce, I am really thrilled to present this award to you on behalf of my provincial and territorial colleagues.  A well deserved honour for an honourable man.