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Judge: Potato Growers of Alberta Must Release Documents

A Canadian judge has ruled Potato Growers of Alberta (PGA) must release documents to the Washington State Potato Commission (WSPC) concerning bacterial ring rot investigations on an Alberta seed potato farm.

In the landmark case, the Alberta Superior Court judge in Lethbridge has dismissed the PGA lawsuit against the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

The purpose of PGA's lawsuit was to stop the CFIA from releasing documents to WSPC relating to bacterial ring rot investigations of Alberta seed potato farms. PGA claimed that public interest immunity applied to all CFIA documents and protects the country from damage to national security and international relations caused by the disclosure of state secrets.

In his ruling released Dec. 21, Justice J.H. Langston agreed with WSPC legal counsel that bacterial ring rot investigation evidence is not a state secret and would not violate Canada’s national sovereignty. WSPC had intervened in support of CFIA at hearings in August and September, sending counsel to argue its points and cross examine PGA witnesses.

The judge found PGA’s contention that revelation of the documents’ content would impact national sovereignty “speculative and not supported by the material.” While the judge acknowledged that information on the existence of bacterial ring rot among Canadian seed growers could cause economic hardship, he could not find that “such economic pressure, if indeed it were to be exerted, would amount to an infringement of Canadian sovereignty.”

He further questioned if “maintaining secrecy with respect to food inspection standards could have a detrimental effect on Canada’s international trade relations.” In fact, in criticizing the application brought by the PGA, Langston went on to conclude that "transparency" with respect to the production of CFIA documents could result in a more favorable view of Canada's agricultural products by other nations.

Langston also indicated that there was not sufficient merit in PGA’s argument to warrant his inspection of the contested documents, saying “PGA’s argument is that there is potential harm in making the CFIA’s standards and testing methods known to a foreign tribunal and I have rejected that argument.”

Pat Boss, WSPC executive director said: “This is not only a win for Washington state and U.S. potato growers who deserve to know about the condition of the seed they purchase from Canada. It is also a step forward in getting Canada to have a more transparent seed certification system.”

Originally posted Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2004

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