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Peninsula Co-op must allow access to members' names

Jan 27 2012

A Peninsula Co-op member seeking election on its board of directors can now get access to the names and address of other members for the purposes of campaigning.

The current co-op board and management had been refusing to turn over the list to candidates, arguing that to do so would violate people's privacy.

But the co-op lost a battle in B.C. Supreme Court this week and was ordered to produce the list if a member in good standing meets all the requirements.

Organic farmer and co-op member Randy Pearson, who launched the court battle, said the decision marks a victory for democracy. He candidates will now be able to contact other members, talk to them about the issues, and get more people interested in board elections.

He noted that only three per cent of the co-op's 56,000 members cast ballots in the 2011 elections.

"If you stay away from the democratic process then those in charge will make mistakes," he said. "Overall, it will be good for the Co-op. One of the fundamental principles of co-ops is democratic member control."

Pearson said that if more people get involved, the board will be held accountable to its members. He said it's interesting that the current board has tried to block that from happening.

"They believe they're doing the best for the enterprise and no one else needs to tell them anything different," he said. "They have nothing to worry about. If they're doing a fine job then they shouldn't worry about that."

The Peninsula Co-op's board and management expressed disappointment with the court ruling Thursday, but said it will abide by the order.

Co-op general manager Ron Heal said the board believed that B.C.'s privacy laws trumped the Co-operative Association Act, which requires the release of the membership list. The court disagreed.

"Obviously, we respect the judge's decision," Heal said. "I guess we're just disappointed in the fact that we're not able to protect our members' information."

Heal said the Co-op is still reviewing the decision and considering its options. But, if someone applies for the list immediately, the Co-op will produce it, he said.

"If the request meets the requirements of the Co-op Act, yeah, we would be obligated to turn it over within a reasonable period of time," he said.

In the past, seven Co-op members requested the membership list and were rejected, the Co-op said in a news release.

The Co-op's next election period gets underway with nominations in March.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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