OUR VIEW: Re-evaluate Co-op’s policy

Despite argument for members' privacy, Peninsula Co-op is bound by legislation to release contact information

Peninsula Co-op pleaded protection of its members’ contact information when it responded to a B.C. Supreme Court ruling issued last week.

General manager Ron Heal told the News Review the Co-op had withheld members’ names and addresses, despite requests for the information, for the sake of privacy.

Under the Co-operative Association Act and as upheld by Justice Geoffrey Gaul, that information must be released if it is requested for certain purposes, such as contacting members before election time for its board of directors, which happens this spring.

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.”

Some members have already expressed dismay at the ruling. Part of the problem might come from the somewhat ambiguous wording on that application form. It’s doubtful many Co-op applicants would read the Co-op Act before signing up.

Peninsula Co-op must be more forthright with its members about the use of their contact information by rewording that application form. For the sake of democracy, members must be contacted at election time – annually – to inform them of who the candidates are and what they stand for.

Most importantly, the Co-op can’t continue to hide behind its perceptions of information protection laws. The 2009 board of directors election was nullified by an arbitrator due to its “oppressive” style that tried to turn results in the incumbents’ favour.

The popularity of the co-op model is evident by the 56,000 members who subscribe to the Peninsula organization. A co-op is meant to be run by its members, for its members. Its nature is different than other types of businesses. Peninsula Co-op should take a hard second look at why it is withholding this information and return to the values behind its namesake.

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