What is the point of the Freedom of Information Act?

Especially when it is used to cover up information?

The Defence Department in Ottawa recently refused to reveal the annual cost of the war in Afghanistan, citing section 15 of the Freedom of Information Act, which advises against disclosing any information which could… “…reasonably be expected to be injurious to the conduct of international affairs, the defence of Canada or any state allied or associated with Canada or the detection, prevention or suppression of subversive or hostile activities.”

I’m not sure how any of that applies to the annual cost of the war in Afghanistan, especially because last year the military complied with an identical request and coughed up the figure of $1 billion —the first time the annual tally had reached that lofty height.

I can just see the Taliban braintrust holed up in a cave, trying to exploit the Canadian war budget.

“Hmm, maybe we should send this message out to all our brave warriors: The Canadian government is spending $1 billion a year to defeat you, but they are fools because Allah assures us of great victory, not to mention 72 virgins in paradise.”

Or something along those lines.

Seriously, the only thing Section 15 is protecting is Stephen Harper’s ample booty, which is pointless because it is already exposed on a number of fronts.

When a government elected on a promise of transparency trades in secrecy, you know it has exhausted its vitality — its moral mandate.

It has sealed its fate by choosing to hide behind a provision that was obviously designed to increase our security, not undermine it.

Make no mistake, the military’s failure to disclose the ongoing cost of the conflict undermines our security by increasing the public’s lack of trust in Ottawa’s capacity for accountability.

In the immortal words of Pogo, that cartoon character from the mid-20th century, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

At least the Taliban don’t pretend to have our best interests at heart.

If the Freedom of Information Act does not ensure government accountability when it engages in war on our behalf, it becomes a hollow, mocking shell of itself.

Freedom of information is the bedrock of democracy.

I don’t know about you, but it sends shivers up my spine to learn that we will spend somewhere between $18 and $28 billion (the figure depends on who is doing the figuring) in Afghanistan by 2011 to preserve a tattered remnant of freedom in that sorry state, while busily suppressing it back here on the home front.