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Privacy commissioner recommends release of caribou location data

Department of Environment says consultation with its partners needed before it will consider release
Caribou pass through the Dempster Highway area in their annual migration. A recent decision by the privacy commissioner has recommended the release of some caribou collar re-location data. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News)

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) found no reason to restrict the release of most of the decades’ worth of data on the territory’s caribou herds requested by a member of the public.

Despite this, the department of environment has been slow to provide the requested information, citing a need to discuss the matter with other groups who have a stake in the management of the herds.

According to a statement from IPC’s office, a request came in late 2019 seeking all GPS, VHF and satellite collar re-location data for all caribou herds in Yukon, including transboundary movements into neighbouring jurisdictions, from 1980 to the present day.

The Yukon Department of Environment rejected the request in full, citing portions of the territory’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The applicant challenged the rejection, sending it to the IPC’s Diane McLeod-McKay for review.

“My inquiry found that the Department of Environment is required to refuse access to certain information requested by the applicant about the Fortymile caribou herd,” said McLeod-McKay.

“However, I found that the department could not rely on the provisions cited for refusal of some information about the Fortymile caribou herd and for all the information requested about the other 28 herds.”

The IPC’s report states that a records sharing agreement is in place between the Yukon Department of Environment and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game allowing them to work together on managing the Fortymile herd which migrates across the national border.

The agreement is the basis of the recommendation to withhold some of the information requested. Alaskan state law specifies animal location data is confidential unless compelled by a court order. The IPC report found that this applies to data from tracking collars purchased by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game but not to the collars purchased by the Yukon authorities.

Information that is more than 25 years old, and so treated as a public record under the Alaskan law, was recommended for release along with any information from the Alaskans’ collars not considered confidential under the law. The rest of the data from the Alaskans’ collar was recommended withheld.

McLeod-McKay’s report found that the Department of Environment did not have the authority to restrict the release of the remainder of the caribou tracking data. She said the department had 30 days to decide whether they would accept her recommendation; they told her they would need to consult with other governments and organizations before making their decision. They did not reply with their decision within the 30 days, opening the possibility for the applicant to appeal the denial of the information released in the Yukon Supreme Court.

Department of Environment communications manager Roxy Stasyszyn said time was required to engage with the department’s partners inside and outside the Yukon before a decision could be made on accepting the IPC’s recommendations; it has taken them longer than 30 days to adequately engage with those partners. She said they would get back to the IPC’s office with their planned next steps after consulting with the other groups involved.

The IPC’s office would not comment on the applicant or their purpose for requesting the data.

Contact Jim Elliot at

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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