A Federal Court of Canada decision has forced the Federal Government of Canada to release the pollution data related to the mining activity to the National Pollution Release Inventory. For a comparison, a similar inventory has been active in the U.S. since 1998, but before the decision the Canadian mining industry had no obligation to follow a similar transparency standard. According to Great Lakes United, Mining Watch Canada and Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund), the associations who started the lawsuit against the government, it is a historical decision:
“Canadians living in places like Sudbury, with mining operations in their backyards, were blindfolded while millions of kilograms of carcinogens and heavy metals accumulated in tailings ponds and waste rock piles across the country,” said John Jackson of Great Lakes United. “With this decision, the blindfold comes off and citizens can truly hold these companies to account for their pollution and the environmental and health dangers they pose.”
A growing number of governments around the world are opening their databases to public access following a so-called Open Government worldwide trend, led by the Obama administration’s initiative data.gov. Experts are developing standards in order to ensure the public can access data and analyze them in the most effective way. But the Canadian lawsuit shows that another worldwide standardization is strongly needed: which data are to be shown to the public? Until the decision lies in the governments’ – and not the citizens’ – hands, real transparency is a mere illusion.