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Potato Growers of Alberta Ordered to Pay Legal Fees

The Honorable Justice J.H. Langston of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta has ruled that the Potato Growers of Alberta (PGA) must pay for the legal fees associated with a lawsuit to block the release of Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) documents to the Washington State Potato Commission and Ochoa Ag Unlimited.

Justice Langston found that the PGA argument for a “no costs” case, meaning all parties are to bear their own costs, was without merit. According to his ruling, PGA’s contention that the release of information would be an attack on Canadian sovereignty was speculative in nature, and it must bear responsibility for paying the legal fees regarding the lawsuit. PGA had attempted to block access to documents regarding Bacterial Ring Rot, which were subsequently released to the WSPC.

After a seed potato farm in Alberta was quarantined by CFIA for Bacterial Ring Rot (BRR) almost two years ago, the WSPC and Ochoa Ag Unlimited filed an access to information request, asking for records relating to CFIA's investigations of BRR in Alberta. Subsequently, the PGA filed suit, asking a Canadian federal judge to block release of records concerning the CFIA investigations.

The CFIA took no position, though it indicated that it did not object to releasing the documents. In Justice Langston’s decision, dated Dec. 17, 2004, he found that the “public interest immunity did not apply” and denied PGA’s application.

In a subsequent filing, PGA asked the court to make a “no costs” order, requiring all parties bear their own costs. WSPC countered that since CFIA, the public authority in question, did not oppose disclosure of the documents, PGA should bear responsibility for bringing a lawsuit against the defendants for release of public information and should pay the costs.

Thanks to the ruling, WSPC and Ochoa Ag Unlimited should each recover about $3,500 in legal costs from PGA within 60 to 90 days.

Originally posted Friday, Aug. 5, 2005

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