Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada

What Happened

In 2012, LAC experienced a budget cut of  $9.6 million over three years, leading to a 20% cut in its staff. Other organizational changes threaten the capacity to preserve information regarding Canada’s history and heritage. A new Code of Conduct for LAC employees, introduced in 2013 and leaked to the public includes, according to critics, “both a muzzle and a snitch line.” In addition to severely restricting all public speaking activities of employees, it also requires these public servants to be loyal to their elected government in and off work.

In its March 2012 budget, the Harper government announced that it would cut funding to federal departments, agencies, and programs by $5.2 billion as part of its deficit reduction action plan. LAC’s budget was reduced by $9.6 million over a period of three years. On April 30, 2012, LAC sent notices to approximately 20% of its staff, advising them that their positions would be eliminated.

In response to the budget cuts, federal libraries and archives have now closed or undergone consolidation, and staff and services have been reduced. The budget cuts have also led to the cancellation of specific library programs like the Inter-Library Loans Program, which means that many Canadians are no longer able to physically access national library and archives materials without travelling. Also eliminated was the Community Access Program, which had previously provided free public access to computers and high-speed Internet at libraries across Canada. This program had served rural and remote communities, as well as Canada’s poorer and more vulnerable citizens.

Libraries in federal departments and agencies gather and preserve highly specialized information relating to the mandates of their organizations, which is often not available through other avenues. They identify information sources, assess their credibility and relevance, and provide access to sources in multiple formats. In so doing, they help to ensure that decisions made by public service employees who are undertaking scientific research, delivering programs to Canadians, or providing policy advice, are grounded in accurate and authoritative information.

Many federal libraries also provide services to members of the public, such as academics seeking access to specialized information for research purposes, journalists and professional writers, teachers, students, and Canadians investigating their family genealogies.

Losing Public Access to Information and Knowledge

As LAC notes in its Report on Plans and Priorities for 2012-13, the cuts have occurred in an already challenging environment. Digital technologies are fuelling explosive growth in information, and Canadians have heightened expectations about access to information resources (in both digital and traditional formats). As part of its modernization initiative and digitization of archives, LAC’s “New Approach to Service Delivery,” which took effect in February 2012, reduces in-person access to archives and libraries. The approximately 20% of LAC’s staff who were subsequently laid off includes 50% of the staff involved in digitization. In addition, the National Archival Development Program (NADP) was eliminated as part of the cuts. This program, once administered by the Canadian Council of Archives (CCA), oversaw Archives Canada, a database that made material located in small archives across the country accessible to the public. These archives often do not have the capacity to function independently, and play an important role in recording material of archival value at the local level. Despite recent calls to restore the program, nothing has been done to alleviate the problem.

Losing Knowledge

A particularly troubling implication of these developments is the likely wide-scale disposal of valuable, specialized information resources currently housed in federal libraries. Such disposal is governed by the Library and Archives Canada Act and related policies and directives, including the “Directive on Recordkeeping.” According to this directive, information resources and other records that are determined to “no longer have operational value” may, at the discretion of the Librarian and Archivist of Canada, be disposed of. In practical terms, physical collections are the most expensive to manage, and, in the digital age, will be the first candidates for disposal.

While some degree of regular disposal is acceptable library practice, significant destruction is expected, especially given the inadequacies of the federal disposition and record-keeping program. In describing its plans to review the program over the next few years, LAC has stated that its objective is to “more effectively deliver on its responsibilities toward disposition.”

Another worrying consequence is that LAC and libraries in federal departments and agencies may stop acquiring new material. There are reports that LAC’s 10-month moratorium on purchasing new archival material, which expired in January 2010, has continued unofficially. The disposal of information resources and the reduction of new acquisitions both constitute tremendous losses with respect to the recording of past, present, and future knowledge.

Losing History and Heritage

Of specific concern to commentators on the LAC budget cuts is the impact upon the preservation of information regarding Canada’s history and heritage. According to the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, the cuts have claimed the jobs of twenty archivists with expertise in Canada’s social, political, and cultural history. In particular, archivists, historians and public sector unions have argued that the loss of the National Archival Development Program jeopardizes Canada’s historical record. According to Doug Marshall, president of the Union of National Employees, while in promoting the budget cuts the federal government claimed that members of the public would be able to search archival resources online, the cuts have restricted the activities of the staff responsible for digitizing materials.

A New Code of Conduct

In January 2013, LAC’s new Code of Conduct came into effect. The Code was not made public until it was leaked online in March 2013. According to Richard Provencher, LAC’s Senior Communications Adviser, the Code was written in response to the April 2012 Canadian Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector, which requires federal departments to take steps to integrate the values it enunciates “into their decisions, actions, policies, processes and systems.” This code replaced a similar one promulgated in 2003 and was similarly drafted in very general terms.

The 2003 Code enjoined public servants to “loyally implement ministerial decisions, lawfully taken.” It also provided that “Public servants must work within the laws of Canada and maintain the tradition of the political neutrality of the Public Service.” The 2013 Code sustained the requirement that public servants shall uphold the Canadian parliamentary democracy and its institutions by (1) respecting the rule of law and carrying out their duties in accordance with legislation, policies and directives in a non-partisan and impartial manner, and (2) loyally carrying out the lawful decisions of their leaders and supporting ministers in their accountability to Parliament and Canadians.

However, unlike the system-wide general code, the 2013 LAC Code is more specific and direct.  Perhaps most significantly, the 2013 LAC Code explicitly requires in section 3.2.2 that the civil servants owe a duty of loyalty to the elected government not only at work, but also off duty.

“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’s reputation and/or public confidence in the public service and the Government of Canada.”

Failure to comply could  “subject” the civil servant  “to disciplinary measures” (section 3.2.2).

The Code contains additional provisions that critics claim were also intended to muzzle federal librarians. In the words of James Turk, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Code “includes both a muzzle and a snitch line.” Of greatest concern to some commentators is section 4.4.2 of the Code, which deals with “Teaching, Speaking at Conferences, and other Personal Engagements.” It reads as follows:

“On occasion, LAC employees may be asked by third parties to teach or to speak at or be guest at conferences as a personal activity or part-time employment. Such activities are identified as high risk to LAC and to the employee with regard to conflict of interest, conflict of duties and duty of loyalty.”

It goes on to state that a LAC employee may accept such invitations if (a) the subject matter of the activity is not related to the mandate or activities of LAC, (b) the employee is not presented as speaking for or being an expert of LAC or the government of Canada, (c) the third party is not a potential or current supplier to or collaborator with LAC, (d) the third party does not lobby or advocate with LAC, (e) the third party does not receive grants, contributions or other types of funding or payments from LAC, and (f) the employee has discussed it with his or her manager, who has documented confirmation that the activity does not conflict with the employee’s duties at LAC or present other risks to LAC.”

In a letter to Canada’s Information Commissioner, NDP Members of Parliament argued that the LAC Code of Conduct contradicts the principles of access to information. In their view, the Code is in conflict not only with LAC’s mandate, but with “the very principles of public access to information as expressed by the [Access to Information] Act – principles that should be upheld regardless of the government’s qualms regarding potential embarrassment.” Further, the Association of Canadian Archivists stated that it was concerned by the Code, while the Canadian Library Association advocated for a reasonable balance between the duty of loyalty to government and the principles of freedom of expression.

Response from Canadians

On May 28, 2012, about 150 Canadian archivists organized a mock funeral, called “Archivists’ On to Ottawa Trek,” to protest the sweeping changes to LAC included in the federal government’s budget bill. Their statement can be found online. In May 2012, “Save Library & Archives Canada,” a campaign spearheaded by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and initially launched in November 2011, was reintroduced for the purpose of informing the public about the implications of the 2012 cuts and coordinating petitions and citizen responses. Several provincial associations of librarians and archivists have also decried the federal cuts through press releases and open letters.


Relevant Dates:

  • May 21, 2004: Library & Archives Canada (LAC) is established.
  • February 13, 2012: LAC embraces a modernization strategy and implements a “New Approach to Service Delivery,” which reduces operation hours and in-person services.
  • March 2012: The federal government announces budget cuts of $9.6 million over three years to LAC, as well as cuts to the operating budgets of other federal departments and agencies, many of which have libraries.
  • April 4 – June 2012: Libraries in various federal departments and agencies close or see their staff numbers reduced.
  • April 30, 2012: LAC issues notices to about 20% of its permanent staff advising them that their positions will be eliminated. It also announces that the National Archival Development Program (NADP) will be eliminated.
  • May 7, 2012: LAC declares that the Inter-Library Loans Program will end in February 2013.
  • May 28, 2012: Canadian archivists organize a mock funeral march in Ottawa.
  • January 2013: A new Code of Conduct comes into effect, leading critics to claim the Code is intended to muzzle federal librarians.

Role or Position

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is the federal government organization responsible for preserving Canada’s documentary heritage and for making this heritage known to Canadians and others. LAC is the permanent repository of federal government publications and records of historical value. It facilitates information management and coordinates library services in federal departments and agencies. LAC also supports, through grants and national programs, the development of library and archival communities across Canada. There are libraries and library-like organizations in more than sixty federal departments and agencies.

Implications and Consequences

  • Inclusive Policy-Making:  The cuts to LAC, introduced in 2012, significantly diminish Canada’s documentary heritage. This limits the access of government employees to the information they may need to do their jobs. As a result, these cuts reduce the federal government’s capacity to make informed public policies that take diverse perspectives and opinions into account.
  • Accountability: Access to information is a key component of a healthy democracy and assists citizens in holding governmental authorities to account for their decisions. The drastic reduction of access to the federal government’s libraries and archives has diminished the public’s access to information and the capacity of Canadians to hold governmental authorities accountable.
  • Equality:  Canadians without Internet access at home are disproportionately disadvantaged by the LAC cuts. According to the Ontario Library Association, the disappearance of the Community Access Program eliminated the only point of broadband Internet access for more than 25% of Canadians. At the same time, the cuts to LAC have dramatically reduced Canadians’ ability to physically access information.
  • Transparency: In addition to cuts to LAC, the federal government made many other cuts to departments, agencies, and programs in its 2012 budget. Former Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) Kevin Page argued that the processes for implementing these cuts have been insufficiently transparent. The PBO is a non-partisan civil servant.
  • Freedom of speech: The 2013 Code of Conduct restricts the capacity of LAC archivists and librarians to criticize any government policy, thus making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to alert the public to the effects of detrimental policies.
  • Loss of non-partisanship: While the 2013 Code of Conduct maintains the previous requirement that LAC employees  be non-partisan, it adds to this the new requirement that they show loyalty to the elected government in and off work, under threat of disciplinary measures. Since our governments are party-based, this additional duty in effect threatens their non-partisan status.

Date published: 26 July 2012
Date updated: 10 February 2014

Photo from Library and Archives Canada.