Calls to reform the access to information of public bodies have followed one another for several years now, without any government responding to them. Last December, the Minister responsible for Access to Information and the Protection of Personal Information, Jean-François Roberge, nevertheless showed a new openness for his government, by extending his hand to his colleague from the official opposition , Michelle Setlakwe, to signal her willingness to work “collegiately” with all MPs to improve access to information1.
Almost five months later, it is now time for the Minister to walk the talk and launch a major project to modernize access to information, which he himself described as “one of the foundations of our democracy “.
On this last point, the Minister could not aim more accurately. Indeed, access to information is essential to the maintenance of a healthy democracy since it allows citizens to form an informed opinion on the basis of reliable information that they can obtain by their own means or by mediator of journalists. This right also promotes the transparency and accountability of governments and public institutions to the public by establishing a healthy culture of accountability.
However, in its current form, the Act respecting Access to documents held by public bodies and the Protection of personal information, which governs the right of access to information, is fundamentally obsolete, which causes its share of inconsistencies in the processing of requests. Abusive redaction, prohibitive billing, response times longer than provided for in the law, the gaps in the legislation are numerous and have the effect of hindering the transparency expected of the government.
Considering the fundamental nature of the right of access to information in a democracy, there is an urgent need to act. It is commendable that Minister Roberge shows an interest in improving the situation, but he must now walk the talk. In fact, the best solution is a relatively simple one. A new bill governing access to information must be presented to the National Assembly. Ultimately, this will make it possible to regularize the responses to access requests and to review the restrictions and exemptions currently in force which undermine the transparency objective of the law.
It is high time for Quebec to adopt a law on access to information worthy of the name. Beyond words, Minister Jean-François Roberge has the power and we urge him to use it, to the greater benefit of all Quebecers.