Lawyers for the enigmatic Deepak International Limited (DIL), owner of two still-defunct diamond cutting and polishing plants by the airport, will soon be in the NWT Supreme Court trying to prevent information about the company’s operations from becoming public. The company was in the news as recently as October, when creditors moved in to secure a $2.6 million loan. Previously, it was revealed that DIL owed the City of Yellowknife $21,000 in unpayed property taxes.
The case, which will be heard on Dec. 18, revolves around an Access to Information and Privacy Request by CBC North reporter Hilary Bird. Back in January, 2013, DIL, owned by former ITI development officer Deepak Kumar, purchased the two buildings from the GWNT for $1.9 million, at the same time acquiring exclusive rights to use the Polar Bear Diamonds trademark. For over a year, there appeared to be little movement to get the factories up and running.
In May 2014, Bird submitted a request for “all records… related to Deepak International’s plan to acquire the exclusive rights to the use of the Polar Bear Diamond Trade Mark.”
“Our position from the start is that this is public information in the public interest for it to be available,” CBC North’s managing editor Archie McLean told EDGE on Thursday.
For months, the request wound its way through the GNWT’s privacy system, until finally it was agreed, in October 2014, that the Department of Information, Tourism and Investment would release to the CBC several emails between ITI and DIL, along with the Trademark Agreement, the Certification Agreement and the Monitoring Agreement, each with some level of redaction.
This didn’t go down well with DIL’s lawyers, who claimed that the information could negatively impact the company’s private business and competitive interests. They asked that the request be reviewed again by Elaine Keenan Bengts, the Information Commissioner of the NWT, who concluded last summer, to their apparent chagrin, the same thing as ITI: “When third party businesses enter into contracts with the Government of the Northwest Territories, or any other public government, they know (or ought to know) that these contracts are subject to public scrutiny. It is not the same as contracting with another private company.
“When contracting with the GNWT, companies are, in fact, contracting with the people of the Northwest Territories, and all of these people have the right to know what the contracts say subject to narrow and defined exclusions.”
In September of this year, DIL once again challenged this position of relative openness, asking for a judicial intercession to force “ITI to refuse access to records relating to the Applicant.”
As none of the documents are public, it’s unclear what they contain that is so damaging. But DIL’s lawyers claim, according to Keenan Bengts’ review, that, among other things, information in one of the withheld emails, “could reasonably be expected to prejudice DIL’s competitive position and could interfere with contractual or other negotiations,” while the release of the Trademark Agreement, “would give competitors of DIL an unfair advantage by allowing them to use financial and commercial information contained in the agreement in order to compete with DIL in the future.”
Keenan Bengts, for the most part, rejected these arguments. But it’s now up to a judge to decide. It should be an interesting discussion about the public’s right to know versus a company’s right to privacy. But we may have a while yet to wait before learning what’s in these mysterious documents.