Some sensitive business information may be accessible under access to information laws.
That’s the takeaway from a recent inquiry report from the information and privacy commissioner, who found that Environment Yukon must hand over harvest data from hunting outfitters, regardless of its impact on their bottom lines.
In order to successfully withhold information, the department must complete a three-part test, commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay told the News. Fail one, and information must be provided.
“It means that, for certain businesses in the territory, or other businesses that are supplying information to government, that might qualify as sensitive business or commercial information … and that’s something they should be aware of and that’s something there should be a conversation about,” she said.
Roxanne Stasyszyn, spokesperson with Environment Yukon, said McLeod-McKay’s recommendations have been accepted.
“In terms of future steps, that’s still sort of to be determined a little bit,” she said. “This is a bit of a change from the interpretation to date, which, you know, is great to get that clarity.”
She said discussions with outfitters are slated for November or December, adding that department staff is going to gauge whether they see the findings impacting relations going forward.
Two hunting outfitters, the names of which are omitted in the inquiry report released on Sept. 19, claim that releasing harvest data could jeopardize the longevity of their businesses. One said trade secrets could be deduced, harming their competitive edge as other hunters could encroach on their hunting spots. The other outfitter suggested the same issues.
A “direct invasion” of privacy was cited from one; “irreversible financial harm” was an issue raised by the other.
The applicant wanted to know the harvesting rates of caribou, moose and sheep by non-residents from the concession areas belonging to the two outfitters.
The department backed up the companies, arguing that releasing such information could divulge financial information like net worth, assets and employment history. Linked to this was that more hunters could become privy to worked-for hunting spots.
The department has 30 days to make a decision on the matter. If applicants don’t receive the information, they can launch an appeal at the Yukon Supreme Court.
“They felt quite confident the information was being supplied in confidence, but it wasn’t by virtue of the test,” McLeod-McKay said.
While she deemed some information as sensitive, McLeod-McKay determined that harvest quotas had not been provided to the department in confidence.
That’s because something like recording harvest data and supplying it to the government is compulsory, the inquiry says.
“The compulsory requirement to provide the information means that suppliers cannot impose conditions on it,” it says. “Given this, they cannot have a reasonable expectation that any information supplied on the form will be held in confidence by the department.”
The potential for personal information being scooped with the release of harvest data was struck down, too, because the outfitters operate as corporations, not individuals.
“It couldn’t even begin to meet the unreasonable invasion of personal privacy test because the first part of that is it must be personal information,” McLeod-McKay said. “It’s corporate information.”
Contact Julien Gignac at email@example.com