A produce retailer that was targeted by provincial tax authorities won a legal battle after the Quebec Access to information tribunal held that Revenu Quebec must turn over information to the company as “Crown priority” cannot be invoked by the agency in access to information matters.
The total amount of professional billings paid to lawyers working on a mandate for public bodies is not necessarily automatically protected by solicitor-client privilege ruled the Quebec Court of Appeal.
In what is described as a precedent-setting ruling, the Quebec appeal court decision provides much-needed guidance and strikes a delicate balance between professional secrecy and public access to documents, according to legal experts.
“The importance of this lies with the distinction the Quebec appeal court makes between professional secrecy and public access to documents regarding legal fees paid by public bodies to lawyers,” said Pierre Trudel, a former director of Université de Montréal’s Public Law Research Centre. “The decision provides helpful guidance over what should remain protected by professional secrecy and what should be accessible to ensure public access to documents.”
Quebec, once a pioneer that lead the movement towards greater government transparency, is now among the least transparent provinces in Canada after successive provincial governments introduced more than 150 legislative exemptions that undermined the province’s access to information legislation, according to a recently published comprehensive report by Quebec’s Commission d’accès à l’information.
With Quebec ranking 10th out of 14 jurisdictions in Canada, and 57th in the world, behind Honduras and Romania, the Quebec government should overhaul the provincial access to information legislation to compel all public bodies, even those partially financed by the provincial government, to be subjected to the access to information law, noted the 214-page, five-year report that issued 67 recommendations.