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Province alters controversial Animal Health Act

May 30 2012

The B.C. government has changed controversial animal disease legislation, clarifying a single term but largely ignoring the recommendations of the province's privacy watchdog.

Agriculture Minister Don McRae said his staff have amended the Animal Health Act to better define who constitutes a "person" who is barred from publicly disclosing confidential information related to animal disease outbreaks.

"Even though my legislative staff are very, very clear that persons refer to people who administrate the act, or inspect for the act, there was a concern in the general public that persons might be a broader definition," he said.

Though the government has said the act will prevent the public from being scared needlessly about disease outbreaks at farms, critics have blasted it as a gag law that muzzles the media and whistleblowers from informing the public about potential health or safety risks.

The changes "alleviates some of the concern," but don't change a section of the act that is written to override B.C.'s freedom of information laws, said NDP critic Lana Popham. "I think that we need to respect the freedom of information legislation," she said.

Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham wrote to McRae this month professing "deep concern" that the

act removes the public's right to access certain records on animal testing and gives the chief veterinarian "unlimited powers" to use personal information in an emergency.

McRae said while he respects the privacy commissioner, he will not be making any further changes to the act because his ministry is trying to encourage voluntary compliance from the industry and bring B.C. into line with other province's animal disease laws.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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