Co-op loses court battle on member info

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

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 the B.C. 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.”

On Jan. 25, 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,” Heal 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 fresh 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 is going to take us.”



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