Annals of Obfuscation

Several reporters have asked me this week why I think Islanders have taken to the OpenCorporations project so enthusiastically — more than 250,000 searches by nearly 3,000 people in just 7 days. I gave a variety of answers, perhaps none really that accurate. Tonight my mind turned to history, and I recalled this passage from Canada’s Smallest Province, F.W.P. Bolger’s history of the Island. It’s from the chapter The Beginnings of Independence and concerns the divvying up of the Island to largely-absentee proprietors:

It is obvious, so far as the Board [of the Commissioners of Trade and Plantations] was concerned, the disposal of the land on St. John’s Island was regarded as nothing more than a cold and indifferent business venture. This approach was more than matched by a substantial portion of the original proprietors. Many of them disposed of their grants as rapidly as they could locate buyers; their interest in their property was as impersonal as the average modern stockholder’s in a major corporation. Within the next ten years, the ownership of fully one-fourth of the townships had changed hands. This rapidly changing proprietorship makes tracing the ownership of lots a veritable enigma.

And later in the same book:

Discontent and revulsion came from the urge for self-respect as well as the feeling of being exploited by alien landlords. All through North America the ownership of land was a mark of competence while tenantry was a badge of inferiority.

While it’s perhaps a bit of a stretch to attempt to draw a direct parallel, I think it’s true to say that Islanders are, by nature, wary of proprietors, and that the roots of this can be traced, in part, to the turmoil of the land question.

Yes Islanders are curious — nosy, even — and perhaps that’s what drives much of the interest in knowing more about our corporations and who controls them. But I’m sure that some of that curiousity is driven by a healthy suspicion about those who engage “cold and indifferent business ventures.” That’s a good kind of curiousity to have, and one that I was trying to foster.


Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on December 10, 2008 - 05:20 Permalink

That and we wanted to know where $400 million went.

An Honest Mouse's picture
An Honest Mouse on December 10, 2008 - 14:35 Permalink

The point that is being lost in all of this is the outlandish reponse from the government. Cutting off the search engine robots does not actually have anything to do with privacy. Of course, the government and Minister Greenan have been unwilling or unable to muster any kind of sensible statement about their action which is shameful in itself. They do not understand what they are doing or why and therefore they look like they are hiding. The fact is that provincial legislation requires that information about corporations be available to the public, just like leand information at the registry of deeds. If there are privacy concerns, then they should fix that on their own website. My understanding is that OpenCorporations merely uses the information that is already publicly available; a live human could do exactly the same thing but it would take alot longer. The government response does nothing to address the supposed privacy issue and, in fact, their own legislation requires that a certain extent of privacy is forgone. The logical assumption is that this has nothing to do with privacy concerns — they could shut down their own website, or block out aspects of the corporate listings. All they have done is limit access to public information. They have not given a good explanation why they would do this. It looks they are hiding and it is shameful.

Leo's picture
Leo on December 10, 2008 - 19:28 Permalink

If they do not want to be open -than simple answer is not to incorporate and derive the advantages of that process (simple — keep it private !) but incorporation comes with advantages (some many consider very unfair see the Film “The Corporation” by Mark Achbar at the expense of public interests by some peoples reckoning
and public disclosure is asked in return