SUDBURY -- The City of North Bay has been named No. 1 in a race no community wants to win: government secrecy.

The Code of Silence Awards are 'honours' presented annually by the Canadian Association of Journalists; the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University; News Media Canada; and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

In a news release Tuesday, the group announced North Bay is the recipient of the 2020 Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy in the municipal category.

"The city is being recognized because of repeated efforts to circumvent basic transparency and accountability measures expected of democratic governments," the release said.

Issues that led to the award include:

  • The city failed to explain why a fired chief administrative officer was paid more than $200,000 for doing little work;
  • A marketing arm of the city awarded a $1.2 million contract to a company that had run the past three campaigns of Mayor Al McDonald with little oversight;
  • The city has spent more than $60,000 in legal fees to block any information going public about North Bay Hydro's purchase of Espanola Hydro.

"These patterns of blocking public access and scrutiny to how public dollars are being spent in the Gateway city is extremely troubling," John Hinds, president and CEO of News Media Canada, is quoted as saying in the release. "City officials are slowly tightening the screws on transparency. It's a story that needs to be told."

The intent of the awards is to call public attention to government or publicly funded agencies that work hard to hide information to which the public has a right under access to information legislation.

North Bay was recognized with a 'dishonourable mention' in last year's municipal category, which was won by the Town of Erin, Ont.

To date, the 2020 Code of Silence Awards have recognized the federal cabinet for suppressing public access to details about very large loans – at times amounting to billions of dollars – given to corporations out of the public purse, as well as Quebec's Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks for its unwillingness to share lab data with scientists at Environment Canada related to four mysterious fish kills

The Code of Silence Award recipient in the law enforcement category will be announced next week, the release said.