Montreal·Special Report

Montreal planning to change rules to release open data

Montreal is looking to change the rules and regulations in order to release more of the city's data, says the vice-president of Montreal’s executive committee.
The details of the City of Montreal's 'Smart City' plan will be released at the end of March. (Shutterstcok)

Montreal is looking to change the rules and regulations in order to release more of the city's data, says the vice-president of Montreal’s executive committee.

Harout Chitilian says releasing data is a priority for the city, as outlined in the $23 million dollar "Smart City" plan — and says it's planning on "removing all roadblocks" to make that happen.

In some cases, that could mean changing laws and taking away privacy safeguards.

He said the city will release details of a strategic plan, which will include details on how it will release open data, at the end of March.

"We identified that data is a must," Chitilian told CBC. 

"Basically, we cannot live without it and we cannot live without having a game plan, and also having a focus on extracting, analyzing and adding value to data."

Chitilian said making the city’s data public is a matter of transparency, as well as a way to manage public finances more efficiently. It’s something Montreal has been working on, slowly, since 2011.

'We identified that data is a must."- Harout Chitilian, Vice-President of Montreal's Executive Committee

Montreal’s SmartCity open source portal already has some data sets posted online, but Chitilian acknowledged that some of the more widely-sought data sets, including crime statistics and restaurant inspections, are not available.

He said it’s a challenge to post data sets that involve other government agencies. For example, in the case of crime statistics, police must agree to putting them online. The same goes for public safety and transport industry-related data.

"There’s an ownership question and we’re working on that," said Chitilian.

He said it’s not a matter of waiting for agencies to give the city permission to put things online.

Instead, the city is willing to change the rules.

"The goal is to make sure that we remove all the roadblocks to make sure these things are possible," said Chitilian.

"I’m not bound to accept the current limits that are imposed on us."

A move in the right direction, says advocate

Jean-Noé Landry has been working with the City of Montreal since 2011 to help it move towards releasing its data publicly.

"Governments generate so much data now, and it’s not their data," he said. 

"They’re not the proprietors of that data. I consider data to be a primary resource."

Landry said it’s been an uphill battle to get data released.

In most governments, he said, there’s a hesitation, or a lack of political will, to release information that has the potential to expose poor government spending. 

"There was a bit of uncertainty in what that change implied."

But Landry praised Coderre’s government’s initiative and described the city’s current situation as "the end of the beginning" when it comes to making data public.


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