Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Profile of Quebec's new access and privacy commissioner

Quebec's new access and privacy commissioner, Jean Chartier, is profiled in the Montreal Gazette:

New privacy commissioner to focus on greater access

QUEBEC — Greater access to government information and a preventive approach in privacy protection will be the focus of Jean Chartier, sworn in Tuesday as the province’s new access and privacy commissioner.

“I am personally in favour of access,” Chartier said at his first news conference, noting that the commission must produce a five-year report by June and he intends to make recommendations about more “open government.”

Like Ontario and other provinces, Quebec’s access commissioner is also its privacy commissioner.

Chartier said he wants to introduce a “preventive” approach, informing people they are not obliged to divulge extensive private information just to join a video club, for online shopping or to join a social network.

The same goes for Google Street, the online service that shows pictures of your street.

“This is your personal information,” he said. “You should protect it.”

Chartier replaced Jacques Saint-Laurent, who was a lower-profile access and privacy commission in comparison with Jennifer Stoddart, who filed the Quebec position before she was named Canada’s privacy commissioner in 2003.

Chartier said his “personal colour” would influence the direction of the commission.

Chartier was named a member of the access and privacy commission in 2006, ruling on access to information appeals.

Saint-Laurent was voted unanimously by the Quebec National Assembly as the assembly’s first ethics commissioner in December, when the assembly named Chartier to succeed Saint-Laurent.

The new commissioner said that in its rulings, the commission is bound to respect the access and privacy laws as they are written, otherwise its decisions can be challenged in the courts,

“My position has always been the same in the decisions I have made in the last five years and it will be the same: if access is possible, I will give access to the document,” he said.

In Ontario, the salaries of all public-sector employees making $100,000 or more are published by the province each year on a website. In Quebec, the access law only covers the salaries of senior public-sector managers.

“These salaries are paid from public funds,” Chartier said. “Is there any reason why they should not be disclosed?”

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