The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs says it has reached a decision regarding a recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request that drew plenty of attention in the farm community. OMAFRA says it will not release the FBR numbers but will release the names of those who hold said numbers, except in a few circumstances where individuals indicated they could release both the name and corresponding number.
In late June, nearly 500 farms and farm businesses received a letter detailing an FOI request related to Farm Business Registration (FBR) numbers that asked for a list of all names and FBR numbers from March 1, 2019 to February 28, 2020.
In a strange twist, the Privacy Act deems names not “personal” information. In a letter that was sent to those who responded to the original request, OMAFRA states:
Under the Act, information has to first be ‘personal information’ before the applicable exemption, section 21 – Personal privacy, can be considered. The Act defines personal information in section 2(1) as “identifiable information about an individual…”. In section 2(3), the Act further states that personal information does not include business identifying information, namely “the name, title, contact information or designation of an individual that identifies the individual in a business, professional or official capacity” and further clarifies in section 2(4) that business identifying information “applies even if an individual carries out business, professional or official responsibilities from their home or dwelling, and the contact information for the individual relates to that dwelling”. For this reason, the Ministry is unable to apply section 21 to the business information in the record.
In a statement sent to RealAgriculture on August 10, a representative of OMAFRA says the following:
“We understand there have been concerns raised related to the Freedom of Information request for farm business names and registration numbers.
The government has an obligation to comply with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (the Act), which grants the general right of access to government-held information, subject to specific exemptions. After consulting with a sample of farm businesses and carefully reviewing their feedback, the ministry has determined that specific exemptions apply to the Farm Business Number. As such, the ministry has decided to withhold that part of the requested information, except where expressed consent was given to provide it to the requestor.
The Act provides that a person who received a notice may appeal the decision to the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s Office within 30 days after the notice is given. Should an appeal be filed, no information would be released until directed by the Information and Privacy Commissioner. Appeals are made by contacting the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s Office directly https://www.ipc.on.ca/access-individuals/filing-an-appeal.”