Canadian Librarians ‘Owe Duty Of Loyalty To The Government,’ Must Self-Censor Opinions Even In Private

By Glyn Moody | Tech Dirt

Librarians can play an important role in any society that depends increasingly on access to information to function. One of their jobs is to help people find what they are looking for, in a neutral, objective way, without imposing their own ideas or values in the process.

Sadly, it looks like that won’t be possible in Canada any more, now that librarians are expected to sign up to a new Code of Conduct imposed on them by the Canadian government. Here’s one problematic section:

Employment in the public service involves certain restrictions. Public servants owe a duty of loyalty to their employer, the Government of Canada. This duty derives from the essential mission of the public service to help the duly elected government, under law, to serve the public interest and implement government policies and ministerial decisions. The duty of loyalty reflects the importance and necessity of having an impartial and effective public service in order to achieve this mission.

“A duty of loyalty to their employer, the Government of Canada”: I think Stalin would have approved of that. Although there is a token invocation of “the importance and necessity of having an impartial and effective public service”, it’s clear that obedience to the ruling powers overrides any misguided desire to be impartial. That imposition of an overtly political line to everything librarians do in their jobs is bad enough, but it gets worse:

As public servants, our duty of loyalty to the Government of Canada and its elected officials extends beyond our workplace to our personal activities. Public servants must therefore use caution when making public comments, expressing personal opinions or taking actions that could potentially damage LAC [Library and Archives Canada]’s reputation and/or public confidence in the public service and the Government of Canada. They must maintain awareness of their surroundings, their audience and how their words or actions could be interpreted (or misinterpreted).

“Maintain awareness of their surroundings” is a particularly fine Orwellian phrase that basically means: watch what you say, or else there will be trouble. Of course, one famously dangerous environment is the online world:

With the current proliferation of social media, public servants need to pay particular attention to their participation in these forums. For example, in a blog with access limited to certain friends, personal opinions about a new departmental or Government of Canada program intended to be expressed to a limited audience can, through no fault of the public servant, become public and the author identified. The public servant could be subject to disciplinary measures, as the simple act of limiting access to the blog does not negate a public servant’s duty of loyalty to the elected government. Only authorized spokespersons can issue statements or make comments about LAC’s position on a given subject. If you are asked for LAC’s position, you must refer the inquiries, through your manager, to the authorized LACspokesperson.

Yes, you see, even that private little blog where you make a witty remark about the stupidity of some of Canada’s glorious leaders could cause you to be subject to “disciplinary measures” (and please, do remember that parts of Canada are just as cold as Siberia….)

The attempt to dress up this pompous control-freakery as moderate and reasonable — “through no fault of the public servant” etc. etc. — would be rather amusing were it not part of a much larger move by Canada’s rulers to stifle dissent. Canadian scientists, for example, have been subject to these kind of humiliating restrictions for some time, as the BBC reported last year:

The allegation of “muzzling” came up at a session of the AAAS [American Association for the Advancement of Science] meeting to discuss the impact of a media protocol introduced by the Conservative government shortly after it was elected in 2008.

The protocol requires that all interview requests for scientists employed by the government must first be cleared by officials. A decision as to whether to allow the interview can take several days, which can prevent government scientists commenting on breaking news stories.

Sources say that requests are often refused and when interviews are granted, government media relations officials can and do ask for written questions to be submitted in advance and elect to sit in on the interview.

Adapting some words penned in a much more serious situation, we might say:

First they censored the scientists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a scientist.

Then they censored the librarians, and I did not speak out, because I was not a librarian.

Then they censored me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

Now might be a good time for Canadians to say “enough is enough”….

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(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)