Secret Agents

In a recent Facebook post, David Weale offers a number of insightful comments on the recent “announcement” of additional immigration agents by the PEI government and raises some provocative questions….an announcement that didn’t actually tell us very much.

Regrettably, Minister Heath MacDonald’s public announcement failed to provide Islanders with the really important information we are entitled to receive: namely, the identities of the owners, officers, and shareholders of these immigration agent companies.

If you click on David’s Facebook page and then peruse the comments under his post, you’ll find some additional information on these companies provided by Cora Nicholson; information she obtained from doing separate company name searches in the online Corporate/Business Registry found on the Department of Justice web page on the PEI government’s website.

Unfortunately, that information is very limited, and apparently a number of the immigration agent companies aren’t even registered in the database. Which raises a key issue regarding the failure of Premier MacLauchlan to live up to his promise to make government “open and transparent.” If you don’t mind gagging on a heavy dose of hypocrisy, read our Liberal government’s commitment to “open data” (https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/…/…/finance/what-open-data) and then review the ten principles ensuring open data which they have adopted, principles which include, “All raw information from a data-set should be released to the public”: (https://sunlightfoundation.com/…/…/ten-open-data-principles/ ).

Shrouding information in secrecy regarding who owns and/or controls and benefits from Island corporations and businesses – especially the interlocking connections between individuals and companies, which would reveal the shared interests and possible conflicts of interests between those who make decisions within government and those businesses which benefit from those decisions – clearly represents a serious threat to an informed electorate, lowers the bar for ethical decision-making within government, and offers far less assurance of fairness and justice within the social and economic life of Island society.

If only the government hadn’t decided to make it impossible to search the Corporate and Business Registry with a decision which former Liberal Premier Robert Ghiz made on November 19, 2008, we could easily discover all the interlocking connections which exist between the directors and shareholders of these Immigration Agents & businesses and other corporations and businesses in PEI.

Why did Ghiz unilaterally decide to block access to this information, a decision Wade MacLauchlan continues to support? Well, the full story can be found here (http://closedcorporations.org/faq/whyclosed/) and I would encourage you to take a few minutes to read Peter Rukavina’s first-hand account of this very sad chapter in our recent political history; a chapter that tells the sorry story of how the Ghiz Liberal government censored access to “public” information without so much as a discussion or an explanation, thereby rendering troves of critically-important information about who owns and runs this Island inaccessible and, consequently, useless.

In a nutshell, on November 9, 2008, Peter Rukavina made a private website he had created (opencorporations.org) “public,” which allowed anyone to easily generate incredibly useful and powerful search results from the public business data in the provincial government’s online Corporate/Business Registry. Ten days later, on November 19, 2008, the Ghiz government temporarily shut down the site just long enough to insert a Captcha block, which made it impossible to update the data with any new business registrations.  Peter has kindly kept his website active ever since that fateful day (renaming it closedcorporations.org) and although it still allows custom searches of the business registry, they are only for businesses registered before November 19, 2008, so the data is now nearly nine years out-of-date.

I have raised this issue with the leaders of all three of the non-governing political parties in PEI: [Peter Bevan-Baker (Green Party): James Aylward (PC); and Mike Redmond (NDP)] and they have all indicated that if their party was to form the government, the Captcha block preventing information in the corporate registry from being searched in  customized ways would be removed, thereby making the data completely transparent and fully-searchable once again. Unfortunately, as it now stands, we can’t do a search to generate a list of the corporations and businesses a person is involved in as an officer, director or shareholder.

To give you a taste of what this ability would mean to investigative journalism, to more effective political opposition, and to a better informed democracy in PEI, I took one name from one of the Immigration Agent Companies – Stephen McKnight, a Summerside lawyer and an officer with the immigration agent company “Aim 4 Inc.” – and used Rukavina’s out-of-date database to see what companies Stephen McKnight was an officer with as of November 19, 2008. Here’s a LINK to that list of companies.  Are they all still active with McKnight still involved as a director? To find that out you would need to search each company separately in the Corporate/Business Registry, typing in a Captcha code for each separate entry.   God only knows how many additional companies could be added to the list from the past 9 years…. but there’s no way to find that out, given that “name searches” are not possible with the government’s search tool for the Registry!

I also did a search of the list of companies that received PNP money (under the former PNP program, which was shut down by the federal government in 2009)  that had an officer named “Stephen McKnight”: here’s a LINK to that list.  I’ll leave it up to you to cross-reference those two lists, but one thing that’s abundantly clear from just a quick review of the two lists is that Stephen McKnight is no stranger to receiving PNP money from the provincial government and is also extremely adept at flying under the radar by using numbered companies.

I sincerely hope that the leaders of the NDP, PC and Green Parties don’t wait until they form a government before raising the Corporate/Business Registry Captcha issue in the Legislative Assembly to inform everyone about how this Liberal government is thwarting democracy by keeping it in place.  And I would ask each of them to set partisan politics aside with this issue, and collectively demand that MacLauchlan – with all his consolidated power as Premier, Minister of Justice, and Attorney General – use his order it removed to allow Peter Rukavina to update his website with Registry data from the last nine years – and change the name back to “opencorporations.org”  – so we can find out what’s really going on behind the scenes!  I’m sure we’d be shocked at what we’d quickly discover….and I suspect that’s exactly why Wade will refuse to remove it.