The identity of the requester and reason for the request remain unknown
By Jackie Clark
Farmers across Ontario with Farm Business Registration (FBR) numbers will not have their names released to an anonymous party, who had submitted a request under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. The Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) of Ontario informed Keith Currie on Nov. 12 that the request has been withdrawn. Currie is the president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA).
The initial request asked for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs to release a list of all Ontario businesses with an FBR number. In August, OMAFRA reported that it would release the names, but not the corresponding FBR numbers.
After that decision “there were hundreds of appeals,” Currie told Farms.com. “When that happens, then the IPC hires a mediator to work with the requester to see whether they can find (a resolution) without actually having to go through all the appeals, because it would be a quite lengthy process.”
The government will not be releasing a public statement, but were obligated to notify Currie because he had filed an appeal, he explained.
“I reached out to IPC to find out the status of my appeal, and they called me this morning and said that my appeal had been basically closed because the requester had withdrawn the request,” he added.
The OFA had been working with the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario and the National Farmers Union-Ontario, and were ready to release a statement to notify membership as the news of the withdrawn request was confirmed.
However, the origin of the request is still unknown.
“Nobody, including the government, gets privy to who files the request unless that requester somehow reaches out,” Currie said. “The requester remains anonymous (to everyone) except for the IPC.… We’d like to know, obviously, as would our membership, to find out what the intent behind this request was. But obviously the mediator was able to find (a resolution) to the situation.”
The OFA is “very happy about that,” he added.
Because the nature of the request is unknown, many members of the agricultural community were concerned about the request.
“People are just nervous about their personal information being available through this process,” Currie said. “We want to protect the privacy of individuals and their businesses.”
The FOI Act “says you can’t use the information to lead to any harm. Who knows where this would have led,” he explained. “We have 38,000 members who are very nervous about trespassing and activist activity … (so) we need to make sure that we protect them to the best of our ability.”
There is no indication or confirmation that activism is behind the request, however, the concern was top of mind for many Ontario producers. Their information could become available through the FOI Act because of changes made in 2006, Currie explained.
Lisa Thompson, Ontario minister of government and consumer services “made the announcement … that they were going to take a look at the act and see if they can’t tighten it up so that it really represents what the intention of the act is,” he added. “We’re happy to hear that they’re looking at it.”
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