A citizen addressed herself to the Ombudsman de Montréal requesting that her borough improve the conditions for consulting public documents that she has the right to consult, according to access laws.

The citizen was complaining about the fact that when she showed up at the borough’s office, to consult many documents requested, a chair was offered, without a table, which made the consultation of these documents extremely difficult.

She asked that the meeting room, generally used for meetings between citizens and borough representatives, be made available for her, so she could quietly read the requested documents.

The borough representatives were denying this request because:

  • They have only one meeting room available for meetings.
  • The borough cannot allow a citizen to privately consult original municipal documents, without supervision. Therefore, to ensure such supervision in that room, the borough would need to appoint an employee, resulting in either an unreasonable salary expense, or a delay in the execution of that employee’s regular work.

We must emphasize that in the situation from which this request originated, the amount of documents was such that the borough could reasonably foresee that the consultation would take many hours, even days.

The Ombudsman de Montréal deemed that the reasons given by the borough to refuse the consultation of documents in the meeting room reserved to citizens were reasonable.

In spite of this conclusion, the Ombudsman de Montréal still issued notice that the physical arrangement offered to citizens for consultation of public documents, in this borough, was inadequate.

The Ombudsman de Montréal emphasized that the conditions for consulting public documents, by people having the right to access them, must favour and facilitate this consultation. Indeed, it is a well recognized rule that the agency which is bound to give access to its documents, must provide, in so far as possible, an adequate physical arrangement.

In the present case, the available space at the reception desk was extremely limited. The Ombudsman de Montréal therefore Recommended that:

When the consultation of municipal documents has a good chance of being long, the borough must take the necessary measures to provide the citizens exercising their right to consult original municipal documents, a more adequate consultation environment, containing at least a chair and a consultation table ;

Being understood that to this end:

  • The borough could allow the consultation of documents in a place other than city hall, where the consultation conditions would be favourable, where at least a chair and table would be available for the citizen, and where supervision by the borough would be possible, without having to assign an employee for this sole purpose ;
  • This other place should be easily accessible and on the borough’s territory, except if the citizen agrees to a place outside of this territory ; and
  • When the quantity of documents to consult justifies it, the borough may divide the documents in lots of a reasonable size and offer to spread the access over many days, according to a reasonable schedule, during usual business hours.

The borough confirmed that they accepted this Recommendation. Moreover, it also indicated that over the course of the year 2006, a rearrangement of the office will be made, to install a table and chair, in order to facilitate the consultation of reasonably sized documents, on the spot.

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