Democracy is a word we’re hearing quite a bit about these days, and it should be noted that the Anglican Church is very much a representative democracy.

Each diocesan leader, its bishop, is elected. Once elected, bishops govern not by themselves – though they do have charge over the clergy – but in partnership with Synod, two-thirds of which are elected delegates from parishes.

For a democratic governance to work though, there must be a free flow of information. All Anglicans should know what’s going on to become properly informed.

In general, the Diocese of New Westminster is pretty open. Diocesan Synod always does its business in public, and Diocesan Council does too – most of the time.

However, lately there seem to have been a number of occasions in which meetings of diocesan bodies have been held in secret. In camera is the legal term. This is particularly true of some diocesan committees.

When a council or committee goes in camera the rule is that everything discussed is completely off the record. Minutes are kept, but they are secret. The public minutes only state that a motion was made to go into secret session, and then a motion was made to move out of the session (ex camera). Not terribly enlightening.

Of course sometimes there are good reasons for confidentiality - though you can’t tell that from the minutes. When buying or selling real estate, for example, the diocese doesn’t want to telegraph how much it’s willing to pay or accept. There are some (not all) personnel matters that should remain confidential. (Canadians do seem to have a phobia about letting others know how much they’re being paid – though every government worker and politician is exposed.)

One wonders if all the secrecy is necessary. In January Diocesan Council went into secret session to deal with the residential schools settlement agreement. Though the subject has been extensively reported in this paper as well as in the mainstream media, it somehow was too sensitive for your TOPIC reporter to cover.

It may be the discussion went in camera because some materials sent out by the national church were marked confidential. Of course, the specific tactics of the small team talking to the federal government and other parties must plot a strategy. The Primate and a few national leaders might need to know confidential aspects of the negotiation. But how documents that go to 30 dioceses to be seen by dozens of people across the country can or should remain secret is difficult to understand.

In Toronto, the national church has a tendancy toward secrecy. The Council of General Synod and the House of Bishops shut the Anglican Journal out of many meetings. Theirs is not a good example to follow if we wish to maintain our commendable tradition of openness.