Montreal, May 5, 2022 – The Court of Quebec has rendered its decision in the case of access to information on the volumes of water withdrawn by each bottling company. Unfortunately, the Court agrees with the bottlers’ interpretation and confirms that trade secrecy protects this information requested by the partner lawyers of the Centre québécois du droit de l’environnement and Eau Secours on March 1, 2022.

“This outcome of the legal process is not what we hoped for. The quantities of water taken will remain secret, unless the State decides to modify the legal framework in order to make them public,” explains Me Marc Bishai, a CQDE lawyer partner.

In Quebec, sustainable water management is based on an integrated and participatory approach that cannot be effectively implemented without public access to this important data. In the current context, the public is prevented from knowing the cumulative effects of these withdrawals on the resource. Today the two organizations are launching a mobilization action, “Let’s lift the veil on water”, through which the public has an opportunity to be heard and to request that the State amend the legal framework so that the quantities of water withdrawn are made public. 

“Without such an amendment, Quebec is prioritizing private commercial interests over the public’s right to know about the impacts on water and the state of this collective wealth. Such secrecy should cease. This is why we invite citizens to join us in demanding that water data be finally considered part of the public domain,” argues Rébecca Pétrin, executive director of Eau Secours. 

“We hope that the public will make the government listen to reason so that the spirit of the Act to affirm the collective nature of water resources and to promote better governance of water and associated environments (Water Act) is respected. As its name indicates, the Act affirms the collective nature of water resources and reaffirms that they are part of the common heritage of the Québec nation,concludes Sophie-Anne Legendre, interim executive director of the CQDE.

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History and highlights

Partner lawyers from the Centre québécois du droit de l’environnement (CQDE) and Eau Secours have been engaged since 2018 in a case to obtain access to water withdrawal data from bottling companies. Access to the data was denied by the MELCC in 2018. The Commission d’accès à l’information has also deemed that data on the water withdrawn is confidential information belonging to the bottlers. The effect of this legal framework is to prioritize the commercial interests of the private sector over the public’s right to know about water impacts. When the case was appealed to the Court of Quebec in March 2022, both organizations maintained that water information must be public.