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Agriculture Minister Bloyce Thompson received a report of the findings of an investigation of the controversial Brendel land sale on Sept. 1, six weeks before he released a statement expressing “disappointment” over the slow pace of the investigation.
“It’s been over a year since a land transaction was referred to the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission for investigation,” Thompson said in the emailed statement, sent to all major media outlets in P.E.I. on Oct. 15, 2020.
“In October 2019, IRAC representatives told members of the legislative assembly that the investigation would be completed within 60 days; yet, a year later we are still waiting on the details of the investigation to be released.”
In the statement, Thompson also committed to releasing the report “as soon as possible”.
However, a report from P.E.I.’s privacy commissioner, posted online Monday, revealed IRAC had already delivered the full report of the Brendel sale to the Department of Agriculture and Land, Thompson’s department, “on or about September 1”.
The Guardian reached out to Thompson for an explanation for the discrepancy in the timeline. No response was received by deadline.
The privacy commissioner’s report, posted online on Monday, followed a halting process in which Thompson has downplayed the responsibility of his own department in the release of details of the investigation.
By Oct. 27, 12 days after the Oct. 15 statement, Thompson released another statement announcing he had received IRAC’s full report on the investigation. At that time, Thompson told the Guardian he had received the report on Oct. 16. Thompson then publicly urged IRAC to publicly release the report.
IRAC said the responsibility for the release of the report fell upon Thompson’s department.
"I'm not sure why they are not wanting to release it," Thompson told The Guardian on Oct. 27.
"They have my permission to release it."
By the end of October, Thompson said he had requested the advice of information and privacy commissioner Denise Doiron to “seek guidance on how to best release this report”.
The privacy commissioner report, which advises against the full or “proactive” disclosure of the IRAC investigation, recommends its release proceed through the Freedom of Information process. The report also notes that the Department of Agriculture and Land sought to publish the entire report, including business information of third parties implicated in the investigation, on its website.
The privacy commissioner report also stated some personal information in the IRAC report could fall under what is termed “mandatory disclosure” and would be exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
This FOI process allows an appeal process in which third parties can provide submissions as to why the information should be disclosed or redacted.
Both Irving and Red Fox Acres Ltd., who were among the subjects of the investigation, have applied for judicial review of a subsequent decision by Thompson ordering a divestiture of the 2,200 acres of land involved in the Brendel sale.
The privacy commissioner’s recommendation places the onus for releasing the IRAC report back on the Access and Privacy Services Office, a department that falls under Thompson’s jurisdiction.
Green agriculture critic Michelle Beaton said it should have been clear from the beginning that the office take charge of releasing the IRAC report through the FOI process.
“Now we're back to square one where we're initiating a FOIPP request again," Beaton said.
Beaton said the important information from this report are the details of how the Lands Protection Act was contravened. These details are of heightened importance given the ongoing consultations related to a planned revamp of the Lands Protection Act.
“If we're enforcing the Lands Protection Act the way that we're supposed to be enforcing (it), the names attached to the sale do not matter," Beaton said.
The Brendel land sale involved the transfer of 2,200 acres between a family farming operation and Red Fox Acres Ltd. The sale was not approved by cabinet, as required under the Lands Protection Act.
- Freedom-of-information process only way to get report into 2,200-acre land sale to Irving-linked company: minister
- Irving family member, corporation challenge land divestiture
- P.E.I. agriculture minister receives report on controversial Brendel land sale
- IRAC chief investigating Irving sale of P.E.I. farmland