Ottawa, March 21, 2013
Dr. Daniel Caron, Deputy Head and Librarian and Archivist of Canada
Library and Archives Canada
Office of the Deputy Head and Librarian and Archivist of Canada
550 de la Cité Blvd Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0N4
Dear Dr. Caron,
On behalf of the Canadian Historical Association I write regarding the recently released document Library and Archives Canada Code of Conduct: Values and Ethics. The Canadian Historical Association is the principal organization of professional historians in Canada. We write from the standpoint of professional history and the possible implications of this document for historical practice in Canada.
The CHA accepts that governments see merit in codes of conduct for public servants as a guide to good ethical and professional practice, but we believe that several provisions in the new LAC code are excessive and counterproductive. Particularly inappropriate is the characterization of outside professional activities of archivists such as teaching and conference participation as “high risk” We have examined other codes of conduct for public servants, such as the Value and Ethics Guide posted by the Civil Service Commission of the Government of Manitoba. (http://www.gov.mb.ca/csc/policy/valueethic.html). We have found no other examples of codes of conduct claiming that such activities are “high risk.” We suggest that LAC rewrite this code to remove such language and not to dwell unduly on concerns about what staff members might do or say when engaging in professional activities with the outside world. It seems to us that existing federal human resources policies are more than adequate for dealing with any rare breaches of professional responsibilities should they arise and that overall it is far better to encourage exchanges than to discourage them.
Various staff members of LAC, including you, have presented papers at the Canadian Historical Association annual conferences. The participation of you and your staff has been very welcome, indeed essential for maintaining important links between professional historians and archivists. At the CHA we have long welcomed advice from archivists about new acquisitions or accessions of archival materials to the benefit of historical practice across the country, which has often been delivered in papers or publications. The characterization of such activities as “high risk” tends to impart a negative connotation and perhaps also to inhibit such professional exchanges which are critical to advancing both archival sciences and mutual learning among archivists, historians, and other related professionals. Moreover, many archivists are also historians in their own right, with research and scholarly careers outside of their work as archivists. Finally, inhibitions on conference presentations and teaching could damage second-career prospects for LAC archivists who are eligible to transition to a university career, even as federal budget cutbacks encourage public servants to look to such career changes.
As it stands, the LAC Code of conduct will limit conference attendance, inhibit the dissemination of knowledge, place undue restraints on the sharing of best practices and discourage interdisciplinary conversations that take place at conferences. We urge you to reconsider this code of conduct and at a minimum to scrap the most egregious passages. Members of my executive would be pleased to meet with you and your colleagues for a fuller discussion of this matter at a mutually convenient time. I personally would be happy to share my experience of 35 years of dealing with such issues as a professional historian with the federal government, which provide considerable context and perspective of potential value to LAC as it addresses this matter.
We look forward to hearing from you regarding this matter of serious concern for Canada’s historical community.
Canadian Historical Association / Société historique du Canada