A recent Quebec superior court decision [available here] has raised concerns in academic communities about the protection of confidential information. Éoliennes de l’Érable, a business targeted in a class action lawsuit, was granted a court order to force UQAM researcher Marie-Ève Maillé to reveal the names of the 93 participants of her doctoral study. It focused on the deterioration of the social climate within the community where Éoliennes de l’Érable’s wind turbines were being built, as well as other related information and documentation.
Although the order was published in January, Maillé’s case has attracted recent media attention, since Maillé has so far refused to hand over the requested data, claiming the information should be protected under confidentiality agreement between the participants and her [Radio-Canada, Ulysse Bergeron, October 31st]. However, this exposes her to being sued under Contempt of the court. The court order is currently being challenged by Maillé’s lawyer as well as by Quebec’s Research Funds. UQAM has stated on November 2nd that it will also intervene in the judicial procedures.
Key actors in the scientific community, such as Rémi Quirion, Distinguished Researcher at the Douglas Institute and Quebec’s Chief Scientist, and Susann V. Zimmerman, Executive Director at the Panel on Responsible Conduct of Research, worry the decision will harm researchers’ work by weakening the protection offered to participants in studies, and dampening their desire to help in future research. Quirion has emphasized that a researcher’s pledge to follow ethical guidelines and protect the confidentiality of participants is central to obtain funding, and he defends Maillé’s desire to follow her ethical obligations. Professor Chantal Pouliot, in a letter cosigned by 200 other researchers, states that the respect of participants’ privacy and confidentiality is an international ethical requirement in the world of research.
Maillé’s story received media attention the same week as Quebec’s National Assembly has decided to act to further protect journalists’ sources, after the discovery that journalists had been spied upon by police forces. This week, CCLA also published a piece reiterating the importance of Privacy Rights and the impact of mass surveillance.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.