Yukon’s privacy Commissioner said that Yukon’s environment department had wrongfully withheld data on muskox locations within the Yukon. He is now recommending that the territory turn over the information.
Diane McLeod McKay stated Wednesday that the department was not authorized to withhold data due to animal welfare concerns.
McLeod McKay stated that although my investigation confirmed that muskox were ranked as threatened or vulnerable in Yukon, it is not enough for me to refuse to disclose this information.
“The department must also prove that the disclosure of the information could reasonably have been expected to cause probable damage or interference with conservation of muskox. This is a failure by the department, in my opinion.
An unnamed applicant requested all data regarding collar relocation for muskox in Yukon, Jan. 1, 1980 to the current date.
The department denied the request in part by citing subsection 21 (b), which is prohibited from disclosing information that would be detrimental to the conservation of endangered, threatened, or vulnerable species in the Yukon.
The Yukon government has declared muskox a species that is critically endangered “due to very limited range, very few population or occurrences and steep declines, severe threat or other factors.”
The department also cited three additional sections, including how disclosure would be detrimental to intergovernmental relations or negotiations between First Nations, harmful the financial or economic interest of a public body and harmful to the business interests of third parties involving trade secrets.
The applicant requested that the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC), review the matter.
A meeting was held in January 2020 in order to settle the matter. An investigator requested clarification from the department about which provisions applied to which records because they were not complete. It was unclear which exceptions applied or if all.
In March 2020, the department withdrew three explanations for not disclosing but retained the reason in section 21 (b).
The IPC conducted an inquiry.
It was found that the locations of muskox in the territory could generally be determined using information that is already public, as it is shared online by tourists, wildlife researchers, photographers, and students.
The inquiry also revealed that the Yukon’s range of muskox is located on the North Slope. It is the “farthest north region of Yukon and one of world’s most severe environments,” according to Wednesday’s news release.
It was also noted that Inuvialuit harvesters are the only hunters of the animal. This is part of a multigovernmental conservation framework.
McLeod McKay stated, “Given that, the evidence presented by the department doesn’t establish that disclosing this information to applicant could reasonably be expected cause probable damage to or interfere with conservation of muskoxin the Yukon.”
“In addition, it is important to note that the department did NOT decide whether to accept the suggestion by the deadline. In the letter it received, the department cited the need for consultation before making its decision.
“The ATIPP Act deems that the department has refused to comply with the deadline because it failed to make its decision by the deadline. This is the second time that the Department of Environment has been deemed not to have accepted recommendations I made within an inquiry report. This is very disappointing.
McLeod McKay is now asking the department to release records within 30 days after receiving the report of the privacy commissioner.
If it rejects, the commissioner notifies the applicant that he or she can appeal to Yukon Supreme Court.