Access to information: Press bosses demand new law

The leaders of Quebec’s major media and the Quebec Federation of Professional Journalists (FPJQ) are calling for the transparency promised by Prime Minister Philippe Couillard and denounce in the same breath the veil of opacity that he has instead extended to the activity public institutions.
On the eve of World Press Freedom Day, they recall in an open letter that Mr. Couillard promised during his election in 2014 to be “the most transparent government in the history of Quebec.”

Instead of reforming the Access to Information Act as promised, the only action taken by the Liberal government to date has been to pass Bill 164, which has further restricted access to information. certain documents of the Executive Council with the support of the two main opposition parties.

On the other hand, examples of restrictions on public information are increasing over the years, and refusals to provide documents based on all the exceptions offered by the Act without being truly justified have become commonplace, as have practice of redacting so heavily from documents given to the press and the general public that they become meaningless and useless.

Press owners and the FPJQ demand the tabling of a new draft law on access to information, which could be subject to “a thorough review of the public and experts in this area to correct the current shortcomings” , and its adoption “before the next election”.

They recall that, for the citizen, “the exercise of an informed right to vote is based on information and transparency of the government and the Administration” and that “the elected government and its administrative arm have obligations of surrender of account “.

According to them, if the population does not have access to information and documents from public institutions, “these key elements of democracy are corrupt”.

They quote former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Beverley McLachlin, who argued that “despotic secrecy has always been the norm” and that “democracy balances it”. The highest court in the country has given the right to information a quasi-constitutional status.

The Access to Information Act, passed in 1982, was seen at the time as a breakthrough, but the signatories of the Open Letter believe that “the spirit of the law (…) is more respected “and that governments and public institutions have chosen over the years to use every possible exception in the law to deny access to public records.

The request is for the Quebec government, but could just as well target the federal government. The latest ranking of the Center for Law and Democracy, a non-governmental organization, ranks Canada 49th out of 112 countries in terms of transparency in 2017, ranking 48th in the 2016 ranking.

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