The plain, brown envelope with only my name on it contained a careful selection of documents. Those papers anonymously stuffed into my mailbox held confidential information from the Prince Albert Co-op. They provided details on issues that lay at the heart of a particularly bitter strike afflicting that Saskatchewan community a couple of decades back. The data undercut management arguments that unnecessarily prolonged that painful dispute.
On another occasion in that same prairie city which sits on the divide between the parklands and boreal forest, a friend who shared the same last name as a local city councillor received a misdirected letter. Upon innocently opening the letter he discovered that its contents revealed the support of the provincial government of the day for siting a proposed uranium refinery on rich dairy lands just northeast of Prince Albert. Government leaders in Regina had previously denied promoting the controversial plant.
Before delivering the letter to its intended recipient my friend made a copy of it and put that into my hands. The Citizens for Energy Alternatives then had a potent tool to challenge government motives and inspire political action. Within literally hours this information plus a little organizing from an environmentally concerned rural parish cure, had local farmers packing the auditorium of the local library to voice their dissent.
A couple of decades ago, when we were all just on the cusp of the electronic communications revolution, brown envelopes or chance may have been necessary to discover the truth of a matter. Now a few key strokes on your computer pad can break down what were believed to be the most impermeable of information barriers. The Wikileaks’ revelations of the last weeks show just how far the electronic information revolution has gone.
In a Guardian column by Simon Jenkins last weekend he notes that “Clearly, there is no longer such a thing as a safe electronic archive, whatever computing’s snake-oil salesmen claim. No organization can treat digitized communication as confidential. An electronic secret is a contradiction in terms.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/28/us-embassy-cables-wikileaks
Clearly there are secrets that need to be kept for a wide variety of reasons but as Jenkins noted “Anything said or done in the name of a democracy is, prima facie, of public interest.” And “When that democracy purports to be ‘world policeman’- an assumption that runs ghostlike through these cables – that interest is global.”
Truth can be an elusive and scarce commodity in a time of crisis. We seem to be kept in this state of heightened concern perpetually now by many of our government, media and corporate leaders. All seem to be eagerly cashing in on our angst but for a variety of disparate reasons.
Though referring specifically to the Roman Catholic Church, Michael Higgins and Peter Kavanagh’s prescription for a new institutional ethic from their book just released last month, Suffer the Children Unto Me: An Open Enquiry into the Clerical Abuse Scandal seems applicable across the board. They state that it should be for “(A) system marked by transparency, openness to correction, institutional humility and a zeal for purification – it is important to retain a perspective that is historical, proportionate and free from polemical posturing and ideological rigidity.” Is this possible?
It should be for as Simon Jenkins clearly stated: “All barriers are permeable.” The truth will come out one way or another. And now it is likely to come out sooner rather than later.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.