Asvisory of the Day
SEVERAL TOWNS, QC: UNNAMED PRIVATE SYSTEMS IN QUEBEC: A BALANCING ACT BETWEEN PUBLIC & PRIVATE SPHERES
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There are currently 94 active Boil Water Advisories and 26 Do Not Consume advisories, in both municipal and private water systems in Québec. While reasons for the advisories are never given, some of the notices in the non-municipal systems in the Capitale-Nationale, Estrie, Mauricie, and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean regions do not provide details as to the affected area of the advisory. There is a total of nine private or non-municipal systems where the name of the system is not published.
Although the Développement durable, Environment et Lutte contre les changement climatiques (DDELCC) website does not display the reasons underlying Québec advisories, in every other active case, the name of the distribution system is mentioned. In lieu of a specific name, all nine cases have this mention, "L'installation d'eau potable est propriété d'une personne physique," This translates to "the drinking water installation is the property of a natural person."
In addition to the mention, each of the 17 regional non-municipal advisory listings has this explanatory note at the bottom;
"The drinking water distribution system is the property of a natural person' means that under that Act Respecting Access to Documents Held by Public Bodies and the Protection of Personal Information, [the name] may not be posted on the website."
We contacted the Commission d'accès à l'information du Québec, a provincial tribunal that intervenes in cases where institutions and organizations refuse to provide media and citizens with the information they requested. It was suggested that in the cases that had the special mention that "the name of the distribution system may contain, or be the name of an individual."
The MDDELCC confirmed this by adding "Those responsible for drinking water distribution systems whose names are not displayed are natural persons." This is not uncommon, many "names of distribution systems associated with natural persons actually include names of citizens who are responsible for them."
The MDDELCC added they do not publish names of systems containing names of citizens "in order to comply with the restrictions set out in the Act respecting access to documents held by public bodies and the protection of personal information."
Though the exact article is not named on the DDELCC website there are a few that would seem to fit this situation.
Chapter three of Quebec's Act Respecting Access to Documents Held by Public Bodies and the Protection of Personal Information addresses the protection of personal information. Article 53 declares that all "personal information is confidential." There are certain situations where this is not the case, if "the person to whom the information relates consents to its disclosure" or if the personal information is obtained by a public body in the performance of an adjudicative function."
Article 56 appears to the most likely clause that would be invoked in the case of a boil notice. This states that someone's name is not personal, "except where it appears in conjunction with other information concerning" them. This is extended to situations where "the mere mention of [their] name would disclose personal information."
This makes sense when one considers that the distribution system is attached to an address and the obvious fact that the individual owns a water system. While it may be anomalous that the name of the nine non-municipal systems on boil advisories are missing, it is clear that this is the DDELCC trying to balance the public's right to be informed where it concerns potential health issues, while balancing the individual's right to privacy.
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