BCLA releases statement condemning the LAC Values and Ethics Code

On Wednesday March 20, BCLA released a statement condemning the LAC Values and Ethics Code.

The British Columbia Library Association (BCLA) is alarmed by some of the oppressive language in the Values and Ethics Code recently issued to govern the behaviour of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) employees. The implications of the Code and its attempts to regulate behavior, critical thinking and freedom of expression both in and out of the work environment threaten the principles of a democratic society.

As information professionals, librarians and archivists are governed by well-established professional codes of ethics and principles, developed over centuries of service to the public. For example, from the Canadian Library Association:

“It is the responsibility of libraries to guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity, including those which some elements of society may consider to be unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable.”

BCLA‘s perception is that some parts of the Values and Ethics Code is punitive and results from the concerns expressed by professional librarians and archivists across Canada about budget cuts to LAC and drastic changes in policies by current LAC management.

The LAC Values and Ethics Code is disturbing for several other reasons. It inhibits employees from participating in library- or archives-related professional conferences, teaching engagements, or other unspecified “personal activities”. The Code describes these activities as “high risk” to LAC. This implies that any discussion on any topic not approved by LAC senior management threatens the institution and is in a conflict of interest. BCLA acknowledges that public servants have a “duty of loyalty” but argues that this must be balanced with a person’s right to freedom of expression. As well, professional employees such as librarians and archivists must be permitted to engage with their peers in forums where they may be discussing differing or controversial perspectives.

Preventing LAC employees from engaging in professional discourse does a profound disservice to scholarship in fields relating to technology, history, libraries, and archives. It discourages many of the nation’s foremost heritage experts from discussing their work with the wider world and restricts their access to innovations being developed and shared by their colleagues outside LAC. Historically LAC employees have played an active and important role in Canada and internationally, sharing expertise and supporting smaller libraries and archives.

The implications of the Code extend far beyond employees’ professional lives. Sections pertaining to “personal activities” display a suspicious attitude bordering on contempt for employees’ civil liberties. In one passage, employees are warned that their private lives and conversation “could become a work-related matter” if they criticize the organization or its management. The language of the Code implies that the most basic liberties – participating in politics, joining professional organizations, or even discussing one’s work with family – are subject to scrutiny and censorship. Again, BCLA recognizes the need for public bodies to balance employees’ duties and functions as government representatives with their right to freedom of expression, but in this case the balance is drastically skewed.

BCLA is deeply concerned by sections of LAC’s Values and Ethics Code because it devalues and dismisses employees’ professional integrity and their underlying freedom of thought and expression. The accomplishments – and professional opinions – of LAC employees should be a source of pride rather than suspicion and should be a focus for discussion rather than censorship.

BCLA urges LAC to withdraw the Values and Ethics Code and re-formulate it more in keeping with the Government’s “Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector”, which holds that “treating all people with respect, dignity and fairness is fundamental.”

June Stockdale President British Columbia Library Association