Maclean's magazine's Quebec bureau chief Martin Patriquin this week chronicles the siege being laid on the CBC by Michel Drapeau, a fervent and frequent user of Access to Information act and how his campaign may be fuelling a feud between Quebecor and the CBC. The story reports that Drapeau -- a lawyer and retired colonel -- has filed nearly 800 ATI requests with the CBC since the fall of 2007 when, under the federal accountability act, the crown corporation became subject to access to information requests.
“The CBC has not made the psychological and corporate turn,” [Drapeau] says. “They don’t understand that they are no longer a private-like organization that they can do as they wish without any public oversight. They have a sense of hostility toward anybody exercising their right to have access to records.”
For its part, CBC management maintains that much of the material Drapeau has requested is of commercial value to his client, the Quebecor-owned Sun Media chain, and giving it up would be tantamount to Macdonald’s sharing its secret sauce with Burger King. Yes, the CBC is a taxpayer-funded organization, they say; but it is also a broadcaster whose competitors aren’t similarly compelled to divulge sensitive journalistic, creative and programming information.
Drapeau says his requests are his own initiative and Sun Media had no input into them. But it's clear that the results of his requests are providing a stout stick with which Quebecor can beat their hated rival.
Quebecor's Sun Media chain has been hammering away at the CBC, a major competitor in the French television market, but the impetus for the campaign (vendetta?) is that Quebecor boss Pierre Karl Péladeau, is steamed about a 2007 Le Devoir interview with Sylvain LaFrance, head of CBC's French service, who said that Péladeau "was acting like a thug" by pulling out of the Canadian Television Fund. Péladeau launched a $700,000 defamation suit against LaFrance, which is in court now.
The trial has taken on elements of the absurd. Lafrance’s lawyer brought in an expert to distinguish the difference between calling someone a thug and saying that they are acting like a thug. (“It’s not an identity, it’s an analogy,” testified linguist Jean-Claude Corbeil.)