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Less Secrecy, Please. We’re Canadian

Quebec has been shaken by the so-called Duchesneau report on the extent of corruption, linking organized crime to construction and to political party financing. While the bulk of media coverage has focused on the corruption, there is an equally troubling aspect: the secrecy surrounding the report itself.

The issue was unearthed by Radio Canada, which publicized in September a leaked copy of the report from the l’Unité permanente anticorruption. It puts all of the pieces together to demonstrate the full magnitude of the corruption web involving criminal groups like the mafia and biker gangs, civil servants, and political parties.

Where did Quebec go wrong in the public tendering process? Secrecy.

And yet the secrecy surrounding the report is symptomatic of how Quebec found itself with widespread corruption in public works contracting in the first place.

The Duchesneau report names no individuals, companies, or political parties. In terms of standard privacy legislation in Canada, there should be no problem releasing this government report to the public. Yet, it remains secret.

Compounding the problem, not only is the report not available to those outside of government, it appears not to have been released to insiders either.

The Quebec Transport Minister said that he worries the leak of the report will hamper police work. Does this justification for government secrecy have merit?

The report does not name names or organizations. How then is a criminal investigation impeded?  The government rationale for keeping the report a secret seems unfounded.

The Government of Quebec is to be applauded for establishing an anti-corruption unit, the first of its kind at provincial level. (The Federal Government established the first anti-corruption unit in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 2005 in Ottawa and a second in 2007 in Calgary.)

Yet by withholding the Duchesneau report, the government undermines the work of their own unit. A commitment to anti-corruption goes hand-in-hand with transparency. Without full disclosure, the conditions remain for corruption to continue.

Heather MacIntosh is program director, democratic development and human rights, with the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership.

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