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DND tightens the screws on release of information

Members of the Canadian military have been told to tighten the screws and withhold information, even though it may not be sensitive or a threat to national security.
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Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson issues directive.

Members of the Canadian military have been told to tighten the screws and withhold information, even though it may not be sensitive or a threat to national security.

The unusual directive, known as a CANFORGEN, was written last year by the country's deputy top commander in response to a media story on financial uncertainty facing National Defence.

The story, in the Ottawa Citizen on April 29, 2011, looked at lapsed funding - cash the department was unable to spend on capital projects - and came at the height of the last federal election campaign.

It was deemed to have contained "information that was not meant for wider or public consumption," but the data had not been given the designation of either secret or protected.

That prompted Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson, the vice-chief of defence staff, to instruct those handling information to give everything that passes over their desks - or is posted on the internal department system - a second glance with an eye to keeping it hidden.

"Information that is not sensitive to the national interest, and therefore not classified, should also be examined to see if it is sensitive to other than the national interest, and therefore requires an appropriate designation of either Protected A, B, or C," said the directive, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The directive goes beyond reviewing information to protect privacy.

"Sensitivity to other than the national interest is not limited to information that is personally sensitive, but also includes, for example, information that is sensitive to the organization, administration, finances or other internal functioning of the department, its relationship to outside organizations, or other government business operations."

Daniel Blouin, a defence spokesman, stood by the directive in an email statement. A directive is considered an order to members of the Forces, he said, and "DND is committed to safeguarding sensitive information, and to the safety of its people, assets and infrastructure."

Critics were surprised by Donaldson's directive, suggesting it was aimed at protecting the department and the Harper government from embarrassment.

"It looks very political," said Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, former head of the Senate defence and security committee.