Canada and Quebec expatriates have access to information

Stupidity among idiots, here is an unenviable double situation. Canada ranks poorly in the world by its Access to Information Act, and within Canada, Quebec ranks near the bottom of national rankings. In short, on this fundamental question of open societies, the Canadian and Quebec situation is frankly mediocre and undemocratic.

Toby Mendel, director of the Center for Law and Democracy (CLD), a Canadian NGO that works to advance fundamental rights, including freedom of speech or digital association, sums up “one of the major problems in Canada is with delays in the delivery of required documents.” Freedoms or the right to information. “In most Canadian governments, deadlines are 30 days [pour répondre à une demande] It is constantly being extended. In Nova Scotia, you need control board approval to grant an extension, and this authority grants and renews it semi-systematically at 60 days, then at three months, then at four, and so on. This is a very problematic situation for governments and institutions in Canada. »

A ridiculous case recently emerged: the researcher was asked 21 million and imposes a time limit of 65 years By Library and Archives Canada to deliver documents required by law relating to a corruption investigation conducted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Negative assessments also accumulate with respect to the myriad restrictions and revisions permitted by the legislation. “The administration’s primary reaction is to reject the request, and the law is working more and more to withhold information rather than release it,” he sums up a recent file from Radio Canada documenting Quebec’s restrictions, including the use of a “consultation mechanism.” duty On Tuesday it published a request by 15 organizations to review Quebec law and other harsh criticism of the practices in force here.

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Examples to follow

The CLD organization headed by Mr. Mendel, in collaboration with Access Info Europe, has formulatedUniversal Right to Know Index (RTI) to rank countries by comparing their access laws.

In the last report (2021), out of a maximum of 150 points, Canada scored 93, making it 53e Among the 133 countries, directly ahead of Peru, Argentina and Guatemala.

with 81Quebec is at the bottom of the Canadian bundle with Saskatchewan, Alberta, and New Brunswick. This score, which equates to 54% in the school report, would put Quebec law in a group of world-class dupes including Israel and the Netherlands, but also Burkina Faso and the United States.

Classification is done strictly based on the law rather than its application, which can further complicate access. The best law (such as the Afghanistan law), if not enforced, is harder than a less fully enforced law. It is clear that access to information is not the only bulwark against corruption, it is far from it.

Scandinavia, famous for being the world’s most transparent, doesn’t do well, according to the RTI World Index: Finland has a score of 105, while Denmark has a total of 64. CLD Director Toby Mendel cites Sri Lanka (4e ranked) and Mexico (2e) as examples to follow.

“Documentation is being obtained, and quickly in these countries,” he says. The Mexican Access Commission is known for being robust and efficient. In Mexico, government documents are likely to be released much more quickly than in Canada. In Sri Lanka, decisions are made in about 20 days, a month at the most, while in Quebec, it takes at least 100 days for the same result. »

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It also points out that in countries to be imitated, citizens are more committed to these issues. “If you ask Montreal residents, a small percentage will have an opinion on the matter, whereas in India or Sri Lanka a rickshaw driver knows the law and will tell you it is very important,” says Mr. Mendel. Traveler citing personal experiences.

Georgia and Quebec

Mr. Mendel is currently in Georgia, where he is preparing a report on the state of the media in this Caucasian republic. He used his stay to participate in a conference on access to information. Georgian practice in this area is governed by an administrative law dating back to the 1990s, and “it is weak and inadequate,” says Mendel. Georgia needs a government entity dedicated to this issue, such as the Quebec Information Monitoring Commission. »

The recent liberal government of Quebec, which pledged to revise the Access Act, presented in the extreme a project considered by many to be modest, which was ultimately not adopted. Avenir Quebec’s coalition government elected in 2018 updated the Personal Information Protection Act, but it did not touch the Access to Information Act.

In both cases (with all the necessary nuances), the socio-political context is not in favor of reform, particularly because the strong governments established in Quebec and Tbilisi face very weak opposition. The news media crisis is adding pitfalls everywhere. In Georgia, however, a presenter and owner of a television channel, Nika Gvaramia, just imprisoned.

Democracy presupposes an open society in which state decisions are openly discussed. Access to information, used by political parties, media, pressure groups, and ordinary citizens, ensures and increases the accountability and transparency of institutions.

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The first law of its kind was issued in Sweden in 1766 (in the middle of the eighteenth centurye century!), and only the second dates back to 1951, in Finland. The United States in 1966 and Canada in 1983 followed. The law on access to documents held by public bodies in Quebec It was unanimously adopted exactly 40 years ago, on June 22, 1982, making it another major legacy for René Levesque.

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