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The CBC won an appealed of a decision of P.E.I.'s freedom of information and protection of privacy commissioner that would have kept secret the names of those who received money through the Provincial Nominee Program, also known as PNP
The names of corporations that received Provincial Nominee Program funds can be released, the Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The ruling came as a result of an appeal by the CBC of a 2010 ruling by then privacy commissioner Judy Haldemann in which she denied requests to release the names of companies that benefited from the controversial PNP program.
The CBC argued Haldemann erred on several points in her decision, including the assumption that harm would be incurred by the PNP businesses in being identified as beneficiaries of this program.
In his 28-page decision released Friday, Supreme Court Justice Wayne Cheverie disagreed.
“(Haldemann’s) decision to uphold IIDI’s refusal to disclose the corporate names indefensible upon the facts of law and therefore not reasonable,” Cheverie wrote in his decision.
In her decision, Haldemann said she received hundreds of letters from PNP companies that spoke of their fear of social and financial repercussions from being outed as PNP recipients.
Haldemann said she was compelled by the pathos in these letters and said she was persuaded the companies would indeed suffer significant harm.
Cheverie says her conclusions “amount to nothing more than possibility, conjecture or speculation.”
“There is nothing in the record to support a finding the third parties would suffer any harm, let alone significant harm, and therefore this conclusion drawn my the commissioner is also unreasonable.”
The CBC’s appeal was not completely successful, however. It also was fighting to have the number of PNP investment units each company received to be included with the list of business names.
The privacy commissioner ruled in 2010 releasing this information would reveal financial information of the third party companies, which is one of the exceptions that allow the withholding of information in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPP) Act.
As part of the initial approval process, a company had to demonstrate a specific level of financial viability in order to be eligible to receive PNP investments.
Haldemann ruled the number of units a business received could therefore reveal financial information and the level of pre-existing assets of a the company, since this information forms the basis of their approval for PNP units.
Cheverie agreed with this ruling.
“My review… supports the commissioner’s finding that the disclosure of the number of units would indeed transgress the prohibition against disclosure of commercial or financial information,” Cheverie wrote.
“While I appreciate the CBC’s argument that it was not seeking the financial information upon which the granting of the unit was based, the commissioner’s conclusion on this was reasonable.”
The ruling could still be appealed by the provincial government.
At a glance
- The Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) offered expedited Canadian visas to immigrants who invested $200,000 on P.E.I., some of which went into an Island company.
- It was established to encourage immigration to the province.
- Problems arose when the province ramped the program up in 2008 and pushed through as many PNP applications as it could after the federal government announced it was changing its rules to disallow the way P.E.I. was investing the immigrant monies.
- The auditor general investigated the PNP in 2009 and found numerous examples of rules broken or sidestepped by program directors and senior officials.
- 1,423 businesses received units under the PNP and the number of actual investment units matched totaled 3,374