Rights and Governments

Access to Documents of Public Bodies


In Quebec, anyone can generally access documents held by public bodies. This ensures that the government and its bodies are more transparent and accountable to the public. There are a few exceptions, however.

Access for everyone

You can access documents held by public bodies whether you’re a journalist, union member, elected official, or simply a member of the public. You don’t need to justify your request. Being able to access this information allows you to better understand and challenge decisions and actions taken by the government and the public administration.

Documents to which you have access

You can generally access all documents held by a public body in the exercise of its duties, regardless of their format: written, graphic, audio tape, film, digital, visual, or any other.

Here are some examples of documents that people often ask to see:

  • correspondence
  • contracts
  • financial statements
  • minutes of meetings

You can only access information if it’s in some type of physical format. For example, you can’t require someone to verbally tell you what was said during a meeting of a public body. However, you would have a right to see the minutes (“procès-verbal”) of this meeting.

Accessing personal information about you held by a public body

You have specific rights when it comes to accessing the personal information about you held by a public body, and a specific mechanism has been set up for this purpose.

Public bodies concerned

  • In Quebec, the Act respecting Access to documents held by public bodies and the Protection of personal information specifies which public bodies are concerned. These include Quebec government departments and agencies,
  • municipalities and municipal bodies, urban communities and their agencies and regional county municipalities (MRCs),
  • school service centres, school boards, private colleges that receive government funding, CEGEPs and universities, and
  • hospitals, residential centres, CLSCs, integrated health and social services centres, and youth centres.

What about federal government bodies?

There’s also a law at the federal level that provides the public with access to documents held by federal government bodies. It is called the Access to Information Act. You can contact the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada for more information.

Exceptions to the right to access information

The law creates several exceptions. For example, a public body could refuse your access to information request if revealing that information would have a negative impact on

  • intergovernmental relations,
  • negotiations between public bodies,
  • the administration of justice, or
  • public security.

Access to certain types of documents can also be refused, for example:

  • legal opinions,
  • recommendations,
  • personal notes written on a document,
  • sketches or drafts,
  • documents protected by professional secrecy
  • confidential personal information.

In addition, after analyzing the evidence, the Commission d’accès à l’information (access to information commission) can also, exceptionally, authorize a public body to refuse to answer requests that are repetitious, abusive, obviously improper, or made in bad faith (meaning, merely meant to annoy or disturb).

Partial access to a document

A public body may give you access to only part (or parts) of a requested document. Usually, the parts you’re not allowed to see will be blacked out (redacted) so you can’t read them.

If you feel that the public body’s refusal is unjustified, there are steps you can take with the Commission.

Requesting access to a document

For more information about requesting access, or what to do if your request is rejected or not followed up on, see our article on the topic.