Privacy concerns rankle rural councils

The chair of the Mount Lorne local advisory council is criticizing how the Yukon government is interpreting the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The chair of the Mount Lorne local advisory council is criticizing how the Yukon government is interpreting the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The government is stopping the council from getting information it needs to understand the desires of constituents, said Peter Percival. Local advisory councils are elected to represent citizens in unincorporated communities. They bring residents’ concerns to the territorial government.

Right now, Mount Lorne residents are being asked for their input about how they would like to see their large lots subdivided. They have until June 30 to complete a government survey. It asks if they want the minimum lot size reduced to two or three hectares. Residential lots in the area can be no smaller than six hectares.

The survey also asks what subdivision model residents prefer. One allows an owner to subdivide their property once. The other lets them subdivide their property as many times as possible. Depending on the combination chosen, over a hundred new lots could be created.

“No matter what the results are, it’s going to affect us all,” said Percival.

That’s why the council asked the government for the names and addresses of everyone the survey had been mailed to. A few residents had told him they hadn’t received their survey, but for all he knows, they could have just misplaced the papers, said Percival.

“We wanted to verify that the survey had gone out and that it had gone out to the appropriate people,” he said.

At first, the government said it could give the council names and addresses of people who had received the survey. But then it changed its mind, said Percival.

The government said releasing this information would be “unreasonable” under the act, said Percival.

The act requires public bodies to refuse releasing personal information, including names and addresses, to applicants if it would be an “unreasonable” invasion of the third party’s privacy. Under the act, this would include giving out someone’s name and address or telephone number so the person requesting the information could contact them by mail or telephone.

The department didn’t release the information because the local advisory council is not the main group working on the project, said Jerome McIntyre, Yukon’s director of land planning. Personal information can only be used for the purpose it was collected for – in this case, getting information for changing zoning requirements, he said.

But words like “reasonable” mean these things are open to interpretation, said Percival. And the council just wants to make things easier for the government.

“We’re a quasi-municipal organization and we wouldn’t be using the information that we got for any improper purpose,” said Percival. “It would be used for us to be able to communicate with our constituents.”

The department hasn’t heard from any affected residents who haven’t gotten the survey, said McIntyre. Almost half of them have responded so far, he said. Citizens can contact the department directly if they have concerns, he said.

The Mount Lorne local advisory council isn’t the only one that has faced these problems.

A few years ago, Tagish’s local advisory council wanted to have a contact list for all property owners, said chair Paul Dabbs. It wanted to be able to communicate with owners about important matters. It asked for the names of property owners based on the property tax list.

But the government refused, citing privacy concerns. The council has started collecting email addresses of owners, but only has contact information for about half of them. “It’s an ongoing irritant,” said Dabbs. If the council wants to send out letters to property owners, it has to ask the government to do it for them. And then the council pays the costs.

Tagish’s local advisory council is still waiting for cabinet to formally acknowledge its existence. That would give Tagish defined land boundaries and allow the council to create an area land-use plan. The council held a public meeting about the topic last month, but only around 25 people attended, said Dabbs. Good weather could account for the low turnout, but in any rate, the council was unable to send out letters to tell property owners about the meeting, said Dabbs.

Situations like this have become a bit of a joke among the local advisory councils, he said. But it would make things easier if the government would just give them the property lists, he said.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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