OpenCorporates wins Quebec court battle

Earlier this year, we reported on OpenCorporates’ legal battle against the Quebec company register in the Montreal Superior Court – 2 years earlier we had applied to the court to rule that the register was wrong in its assertion that Act Respecting the Legal Publicity of Enterprises (ALPE) meant that we weren’t allowed to hold a copy of the Quebec register data, and in March we had our day in court.

This was an important fight for us, as we believed it was very much against the public interest to remove the Quebec company data from OpenCorporates, particularly as our Quebec data has been used in multiple investigations into criminal activity. And given our public-benefit mission we felt had no choice but to make a stand on a point of principle and of law.

Well, we’re delighted to announce that we have just received notification from the court that the judge has ruled in our favour. This is a very significant milestone for OpenCorporates, and we hope the wider cause of genuine corporate transparency. The ruling by the Honourable Karen M Rogers, JCS, is in French, but we’ve got it translated into English too (we should stress that this English translation has no legal standing). There are several notable elements to the ruling:

  • “No article of the ALPE has the effect of creating a monopoly on the keeping of a register containing information on Quebec enterprises.”
  • “Contrary to what is claimed by the Registrar, the ALPE does not delegate to the Registrar the responsibility to protect the personal information that has been collected from the Register.”
  • “The database of OpenCorporates… is clearly distinguishable from the register, mainly by providing a link to the official site of the Register, but also by organising information differently, by centralising such information in order to make links with information collected by other sources.”

Of course this last one is the central purpose of OpenCorporates. We don’t wish to replace official company registers – they have an important statutory duty. On the contrary, we exist to make their information more available, more useful, less siloed, and thus more important, and in doing so bring about genuine corporate transparency and increase the risks and difficulties in using companies for criminal, and anti-social purposes.

We took on this case feeling very much that we were on the right side of the moral argument – if company data cannot be used outside of the register, it reduces oversight, increases risk for business, undermines business integrity, and effectively provides a free pass for the criminals, money-launderers and fraudsters. Still, there’s no certainty in any court case, and we did this on above all to bring certainty to the legal situation, and we assume the Quebec government fought the case for the same reason, i.e. to bring legal certainty.

There is still the possibility that the Quebec government will appeal against the judgement (they have until Oct 12), but our hope is that with the clarity that the judgement provides, they would take this as an opportunity to work with us, and other stakeholders, especially in civil society, in opening a new era of corporate transparency and trust in Quebec.

Hoping that to be the case, we will shortly be reaching out to the government of Quebec to meet and discuss how open company data can benefit the citizens and businesses of Quebec, as well as making it considerably more difficult for the unscrupulous, the corrupt and the criminal around the world to use Quebec companies to carry out their illicit activities.

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