Muskox calf Trebek with mom Charlotte. (Photo by Katie Cotterill, courtesy Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium)

Muskox calf Trebek with mom Charlotte. (Photo by Katie Cotterill, courtesy Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium)

Privacy commissioner calls for release of muskox location data

The Department of Environment refused the request under the ATIPP Act.

The Yukon’s information and privacy commissioner (IPC) has ruled that data on muskox locations should have been released to the public by the Environment Department.

“Although my investigation substantiated that muskox are ranked as critically imperilled and threatened or vulnerable in the Yukon, that is not enough to justify refusing to disclose this information,” said Diane McLeod-McKay.

In November 2019, an applicant using the Access to Information Act made a request to the Department of Environment for all collar re-location data for muskox in the Yukon from 1980 to 2019.

Under the Act, information gathered by the government is meant to be public by default, but there are exceptions a department can use to withhold information. The Department of Environment refused the muskox request, using a section of the ATIPP Act that can deny “disclosure of information that could be harmful to the conservation of species.”

The applicant appealed the decision to the IPC.

McLeod-McKay said the matter couldn’t be informally resolved, so a formal investigation was launched into the decision. McLeod-McKay found that the department did not have the authority to keep the information secret from the public.

“The department must also establish that disclosure of the information could reasonably be expected to result in probable damage to or interference with the conservation of muskox. In my view, the department failed in this regard,” she said.

In her reasoning, McLeod-McKay said that the whereabouts of the animals are already fairly publicly accessible since they are sedentary animals who do not migrate over a large range.

Their home on the North Slope is far from any roads or towns. In addition, there is no licensed hunting permitted for muskox in the territory in the Yukon. The only hunting allowed is by Inuvialuit harvesters.

“Given this, the evidence provided by the department does not establish that disclosing the information to the applicant could reasonably be expected to cause probable damage or interference with the conservation of muskox in the Yukon,” said McLeod-McKay.

In May, McLeod-McKay made a similar ruling on a request for caribou-related data.

She also noted in her most recent decision that despite her ruling, the Department of Environment is continuing to refuse to release the data.

“This is the second time in the last year that the Department of Environment has been deemed in refusal of recommendations I made in an inquiry report, which is disappointing,” she said.

The Ombudsman, Information and Privacy Commissioner, and Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner is an independent officer of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.

Contact Haley Ritchie at