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Freedom-of-information process only way to get report into 2,200-acre land sale to Irving-linked company: minister

Agriculture and Land Minister Bloyce Thompson has promised to release a report detailing the findings of an IRAC investigation into the Brendel land sale.
Agriculture and Land Minister Bloyce Thompson has promised to release a report detailing the findings of an IRAC investigation into the Brendel land sale. - Stu Neatby
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

There is no indication details of an investigation into the Brendel land sale will be released anytime soon.

P.E.I.’s information and privacy commissioner Denise Doiron has provided advice to Agriculture and Land Minister Bloyce Thompson about the release of the findings of an investigation into the 2019 sale of 2,200 acres of land.

In a media statement released late afternoon Friday, Bloyce Thompson said Doiron’s advice called for the report to be subject to the province’s freedom of information legislation. There is no deadline as to how long this process will take.

“In her advice and recommendations, the information and privacy commissioner recommends that any disclosure of this IRAC report be dealt with under the access to information process pursuant to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act,” Thompson said in the statement.

“We will allow this process to proceed and will not release the IRAC report except in accordance with this statutory process.”

The Brendel land sale, a transfer of over 2,000 acres of land between a family farming operation and Red Fox Acres Ltd., a landholding company linked to the Irving family, occurred without the approval of cabinet, as required under the Lands Protection Act.

A subsequent investigation, conducted by the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC), found that the sale contravened the Act. But details about exactly what happened, as well as how the sale occurred without the approval of cabinet, have not been released. Thompson has initiated a process for Red Fox Acres to divest itself of the landholdings, although it remains unclear who will take possession of these lands.

Rebecca Irving and Red Fox Acres Ltd. have filed for judicial review of Thompson’s decision.

Thompson has said he will release the report detailing the findings of the investigation publicly.

But the Province’s freedom of information legislation means that third parties, including Red Fox Acres Ltd., would have a chance to review the application to disclose the report.

Both The Guardian and CBC have filed freedom of information requests to obtain a copy of the IRAC report.

"At the end of the day, the main thing is that there is some information in the report that might be subject to what we would call mandatory exceptions to disclosure for privacy reasons," Doiron said in an interview.

Examples of a mandatory exception could include personal information, such as birthdates, banking information or addresses, Doiron said.

But Doiron said third parties would have to argue that information they did not want disclosed met a three-part test. This test asks if information would reveal a trade secret or financial or technical information, was supplied in confidence or would harm the competitive position of, or result in financial loss from, the third party.

"A lot of the time it's not apparent they would meet that test right off the bat," Doiron said.

"If the government decides 'thank you for your information but we don't agree, we still think it should be released' then the third parties have the right to seek review from our office. On the other hand, if government says no, we don't think the information should be released, that gives the applicant (time) to ask our office to review to see if maybe it should be released."

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