Protecting citizens through access to information | The Press

Access to information held by our governments is essential for citizens in a democracy. It is only by ending government secrecy that we can protect ourselves against arbitrary or unjust decisions. Access to this valuable information is also the subject of a growing social consensus in Quebec.

However, despite this consensus, it is clear that the last governments have all failed to update the Act respecting access to documents held by public bodies and the protection of personal information. The latest statements by Minister Éric Caire are, moreover, illustrative of this: we should not expect such a bill before the next Quebec elections.

At the heart of the expected reform is the definition of the documents to which citizens must have access at all times. Indeed, we must put an end to the inconsistency that currently prevails in public bodies.

In this sense, it is essential to have a precise list of documents and information excluded from the law. In addition, when processing access requests, managers should be required to consistently apply the harm test in deciding whether or not to transmit a document. A detailed justification must accompany any refusal of access to a document or information.

Moreover, the expected reform should put an end to several questionable practices by public bodies. The end of abusive redaction, the end of abusive invoicing and the end of arbitrariness in the treatment of the same request according to the requester are just a few examples. Ditto if the processing of a request is justified by mistrust of the applicant’s intentions. Finally, we must stop using mediation or arbitration hearings to withhold information beyond the time limits provided for by law.

Penalties

Obviously, for such a reform to be effective, the culprits must be punished. Consequent sanctions are necessary in the event of non-compliance with the deadlines established in the law, of absence of acknowledgment of receipt and processing of the request, of absence of justification for a refusal or non-respect of the definition documents accessible to the public. The application of these sanctions must be systematic.

In general, we therefore call for a change of culture within the State, based on transparency and a wider distribution of documents accessible to the public, rather than the current culture of least effort.

And this change in culture goes far beyond the publication of the few open datasets put forward by Minister Cairo… It is also important to strengthen Quebecers’ knowledge of the access to information system. In this sense, the publication, in an annual report, of the number of access requests received, processed, accepted and refused would be of great help.

We reiterate that access to government information, upon request, is essential to protect citizens from potential bad decisions in a democracy. Moreover, more and more people and organizations support the idea of ​​updating the Act respecting access to documents held by public bodies and the protection of personal information. At a time when the possibility of introducing a bill is behind us, the signatories of this letter ask all Quebec political parties to make a formal commitment to introduce a bill to reform access to information in Quebec in the first 100 days of their accession to government in the elections next October.

* Co-signers: Marie-Line Audet, Executive Director of the National Table of Community Development Corporations (TNCDC); Michel Binette, President of the Quebec Association of Lobbyists (AQL); Julie Bouchard, President of the Quebec Interprofessional Health Federation (FIQ); Pierre Blain, President and CEO of Quebec Health Users (LUSQ); Renaud Brossard, Director, Quebec, of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF); Annick Charette, President of the National Federation of Communications and Culture (FNCC); Daniel Cloutier, Quebec director of Unifor; Claude Fortin, President of the Federation of Professional Universities and Research Personnel (FPPU); Éric Gingras, president of the Central Trade Unions of Quebec (CSQ); Samuel Boily, President of the Coalition of Consumer Associations of Quebec (CACQ); Joël Leblanc, scientific journalist and chairman of the board of directors of the Association of Scientific Communicators of Quebec (ACS); José Lemay-Leclerc, president of Télétravail Québec; Gabriel Pelletier, President of the Association of Directors and Directors of Quebec (ARRQ); Stéphane Prud’homme, president of the International Association of Communication Professionals of Quebec (IABC); Louis-Paul Rivest, President of the Association of Statisticians of Quebec (ASSQ); Mathieu Santerre, president of L’Orange bleue public affairs; Gisèle Tassé-Goodman, President of the FADOQ Network

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