Quebec agencies accused of Access to Information stonewall
Published Monday, January 21, 2013 2:05PM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 21, 2013 2:19PM EST
The Quebec Federation of Journalists is asking for a complete rehaul of the provincial Access to Information law, which came into effect 30 yeas ago.
"It's almost like a law of inaccess to information," said Kathleen Levesque, a reporter for Le Devoir who frequently files Access to Information requests to allow the public to know what is going on with publicly-funded bodies.
Levesque said that ATI requests now yield little to no useful information.
The Federation of Quebec Journalists agrees that agencies have been stonewalling requests and last year sent a brief to the provincial government requesting changes to the law.
President Brian Myles said the public needs to know more about how such bodies operate, a fact confirmed by the recent revelations of government corruption made at the Charbonneau Commission.
"We need to rewrite the law and rethink how we use ATIs," said Myles.
He said the ATI application process is difficult and slow.
"It's too complicated; it's too lengthy to get the information," he said.
Quebec's Access to Information law must be reviewed every five years but last year’s review was delayed because of the provincial election.
Now the PQ minister responsible for democratic affairs, Bernard Drainville admits that it needs revamping.
"Quebec got an F last year for transparency," said Drainville.
The Quebec Federation of Journalists is among several media groups now fighting a case against Hydro-Quebec because the utility is trying to force anyone who wants to appeal a refused ATI request to do so through a lawyer.
"People or media who lack the means to plead their cases will just abandon them. It's going to have a chilling effect on the circulation of information," said Myles.
In another example, the municipality of Mascouche recently unveiled its budget in a Power Point presentation. When journalists asked to see the full budget, they were told to file an ATI request.
Of the 20-or-so Access to Information requests filed every year by CTV Montreal, just one is likely to be contain the information requested.
Levesque said that her success rate sits in the same abysmal range.
The law also appears to be applied inconsistently, as a government agency can sometimes claim that certain information doesn't exist, only to produce the same information for another news organization.
The Access to Information Commission was asked to comment on these issues but did not agree to an interview by publication.
The commission said that they do not know how many ATI requests are made, granted or refused.