OTTAWA—CBC/Radio-Canada president and CEO Hubert T. Lacroix says he doesn’t agree that the House of Commons ethics committee has been on a “witch hunt” against the public broadcaster. “Today wasn’t a witch hunt,” Lacroix told reporters following an ethics committee meeting Thursday morning. “The committee asked us to explain why we went to court with the information commissioner and we responded to those questions.” During the committee meeting, Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia said that, “as an outside member of the committee, it seems we have sort of a witch hunt going on.” Scarpaleggia said the last time he saw Lacroix was 15 months ago when he appeared before the heritage committee to discuss the same issue. The committee’s study into CBC and access-to-information is a contradiction for a Conservative government that does not have a positive track record on public transparency and providing information, he said. But Lacroix told the committee that the public broadcaster welcomes questions about its accountability. CBC receives $1.1 billion in annual parliamentary appropriations, representing a contribution of $34 per year from each Canadian taxpayer. “We take joy in explaining to Canadians how their $34 are being spent,” Lacroix said. “It’s to tell someone in St. John’s what’s going on in Red Deer, Alta., or what happened in Victoria yesterday … That’s the job of the public broadcaster.” The CBC has come under fire recently from Conservative MPs and competing company Quebecor Media Inc. for its slow response times and high refusal rates to access-to-information requests. The Conservative government placed the broadcaster under the Access to Information Act in 2007. Section 68.1 of the act allows the public broadcaster to withhold or redact documents pertaining to its creative programming or journalistic activities. The CBC was involved in a lengthy court battle with the Office of the Information Commissioner over access to withheld information. But in a decision yesterday, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld a Federal Court decision last year that gave the information commissioner authority to order CBC to produce records for the commissioner’s review. At the committee meeting Thursday, Lacroix said CBC’s concern throughout the process has been the protection of its journalistic sources and that its court challenge was only about the jurisdiction of the commissioner. “It was never, and still isn’t, about the information that we release to the public under access to information,” he said. “The Court of Appeal decision doesn’t increase nor decrease a requester’s ability to access our ‘journalistic, creative or programming activities,’ nor increase or decrease the information that we will disclose.” Justice Marc Noël wrote in the decision Wednesday that the exception does not provide the CBC with the authority to hide documents from examination by the information commissioner. Conservative MP Blaine Calkins said he hopes the decision will be enough to end the matter for the public broadcaster. “I sincerely hope for the sake of taxpayers that this doesn’t go any further,” he said. “The optics of what has happened here is so, so bad for the CBC.” Calkins said the entire access-to-information dispute makes it difficult for the government to defend the public broadcaster. Lacroix did not say whether CBC will appeal the matter to the Supreme Court. When asked by Conservative MP Joy Smith if the broadcaster would spend more taxpayer dollars pursuing such a fight, Lacroix implied it was too soon to tell. “The judgment was rendered yesterday,” Lacroix said. “We will look at this. We are going to make a decision in the next couple of days.” He added that the Crown corporation would not be the only public organization willing to take a dispute with the information commissioner to the Supreme Court. The Prime Minister’s Office, federal departments and the RCMP have fought the release of records all the way to the Supreme Court and they were not accused of wasting resources, Lacroix said. Conservative MP and parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister Dean Del Mastro told reporters Thursday that it’s important to recognize that the public deserves transparency from CBC. “A family of four provides a week’s worth of groceries to the CBC,” he said. “I think what they deserve in exchange for that is a spirit of openness and transparency on how those dollars are being spent.” During the meeting, Del Mastro accused the CBC of reclassifying costs so that they fall under exclusions provided by 68.1. “If you didn’t want to provide access to that, it seems to me that you would simply move your expenditures to a place where your 68.1 exemption would apply,” he said. “Move your hospitality spending under a new column, call it programming, call it creative, call it journalistic, and now all of a sudden, you don’t have to provide that access to information or that transparency.” He added that by refusing an information request about fleet vehicles—one of the hundreds of requests submitted by Quebecor and which was withheld by CBC—the Crown corporation took the 68.1 exceptions to an “extreme that nobody would think is reasonable.” “If we did what you suggest we would do, we would be cheating,” Lacroix answered. He said that, at the time of the request, information about every car used by the broadcaster, to the exception of his own, was considered to be programming. But when the broadcaster reviewed the refusal in the context of its published guidelines, Lacroix said, “our thoughts evolved and this information is now available on our website.” Del Mastro was behind a motion that forced the CBC to submit redacted and unredacted versions of withheld documents to the committee so that they could be viewed in-camera. The broadcaster submitted documents to the committee last week in sealed envelopes, and Lacroix said he hoped the confidentiality of the files would be respected. At the committee meeting Thursday, Del Mastro thanked the broadcaster for its cooperation and said that he did not see the need to open the sealed documents. That followed the Federal Court of Appeal decision Wednesday, which requires the CBC to hand over the documents to the information commissioner. The committee decided that the sealed envelopes, currently locked in a safe, would be returned to the broadcaster. Del Mastro told reporters Thursday that he would like to see the committee recommend amendments to the Access to Information Act to clarify the section 68.1 exceptions and ensure it cannot be used improperly. Lacroix told the committee that CBC now has a 5 per cent access-to-information refusal rate, down from the 22 per cent rate reported in late October. He said it is worth noting that, on Sept. 7, 2010, the office of lawyer Michel Drapeau, who has been acting for Quebecor, submitted 72 access-to-information requests to the public broadcaster. firstname.lastname@example.org --- CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the office of Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau as requesting documents from the CBC.