Peninsula Co-op must hand out members' contact info if requested: judge

Randy Pearson at his Saanich farm. Pearson recently won a B.C. Supreme Court case which could force Peninsula Co-op to release the contact information of its 56,000 members for certain purposes. - Erin Cardone/News staff
Randy Pearson at his Saanich farm. Pearson recently won a B.C. Supreme Court case which could force Peninsula Co-op to release the contact information of its 56,000 members for certain purposes.
— image credit: Erin Cardone/News staff

A Peninsula Co-op member who fought – and won – to have members’ contact information distributed said it’s a victory for democracy.

“The members are going to benefit from this,” said Randy Pearson, the Saanich farmer and Co-op member who took the issue to Supreme Court in January 2011. “The more you engage people in the policies of the Co-op and what the future of the enterprise can be, the more people are going to be paying attention and the better the Co-op will be, the more accountable the directors will be to the membership.

“That’s the one underlying element of the Co-op, is it’s meant to be run by the membership.”

In a Jan. 25 ruling, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Gaul ruled the Co-operative Association Act says members’ contact info can be released by request, if the requester plans to use it for corporate purposes.

For Peninsula Co-op general manager Ron Heal, it means a breach of privacy for its 56,000 members.

“We take the privacy of our members’ information very seriously,” he said. “It was our opinion and belief that the Personal Information [Protection] Act prevented us from releasing that information to members. We felt that the two acts contradicted each other.”

Under the Co-op Act, corporate purposes include “[influencing] the voting of members, investment shareholders or debentureholders of the association at any meeting.”

Pearson’s application to the court stems from a 2009 election for the Co-op’s directors, during the time the Co-op was applying to build a grocery store on land it owns on West Saanich Road.

“It was an absolute chaotic situation and probably the most undemocratic meeting I’d seen in my life. I was just appalled,” Pearson said. “I left there and I thought, you can’t do this stuff, it’s so bad.”

Pearson launched an arbitration soon after and in early 2010, arbitrator Jakob de Villiers nullified the 2009 election, and ordered a re-election.

“I’m a member of this Co-op and i want to speak out against [the development]. That’s what brought me to the [election meeting],” Pearson said. “But when I saw how it was run and when I saw the general manager get up on the podium and say vote for the incumbents … it was so wrong and so bush league. That’s what motivated me.”

Heal couldn’t confirm whether Peninsula Co-op would appeal Gaul’s decision.

“We’re going to assess our options on how we can continue to keep that information secure. I don’t know right now where that avenue’s going to take us.”

In signing a Peninsula Co-op membership application, members agree their information can be used for “communicating with you regarding your membership or other matters of concern to the Co-op and its members” and “meeting legal and regulatory requirements.”

Pearson said he is requesting the membership list be released to him.

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