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Annual Report and Main Estimates

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Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics

November 17, 2004
Ottawa, Ontario

Opening Statement by Jennifer Stoddart
Privacy Commissioner of Canada


Good afternoon. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before this Committee to discuss the Office of the Privacy Commissioner's Annual Report for 2003-2004 and Main Estimates and to respond to the Public Service Commission Report "One Year Later".

With me today is Assistant Commissioner Raymond D'Aoust and other members of my staff to assist me in addressing operational, financial and human resource questions.

You have recognized the importance of privacy, access to information and ethics issues in creating this new committee. I look forward to working with members of the committee in the months ahead.

Annual Report

As I was appointed Privacy Commissioner on December 1, 2003, the 2003-2004 Annual Report reflects both the work of Interim Commissioner Robert Marleau in helping move the Office through a difficult and complex period and the institutional efforts of our Office under my leadership to strengthen our management and financial processes.

When I arrived at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, I set a clear goal of rebuilding the trust of Parliament and Canadians in our Office. I identified some key objectives, most notably to lead the Office's institutional renewal in the areas of human resources, planning, budgeting and reporting. This renewal is a critical factor in our effectiveness and efficiency as an ombudsman dedicated to the protection of the privacy rights.

I also set out to help organizations fully implement the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and understand their obligations, and citizens their rights, under this new law. This involves working out shared responsibilities with provinces that may already have, or will adopt, their own privacy legislation.

As an ombudsman I also have a responsibility to draw Parliament's attention to the privacy implications of government and private sector activities and proposals and to inform Canadians of their privacy rights. Issues such as the growth of databanks, the introduction of privacy invasive technologies such as radio frequency identification devices or RFIDs, black boxes, spyware etc. Canadians are raising issues relating to border and international security which are posing unprecedented challenges to Canadian privacy legislation.

Much of the anti-terrorism legislation passed in Canada and abroad is based on the premise that the more information governments have about everyone, the safer we will be.

Our Office is not opposed to improving security or to the sharing of necessary information among agencies. We do however raise concerns about how this is done and recommend clear procedures and policies to protect personal information, to ensure this information is not used or disclosed for purposes other than for which it was intended and not retained for periods longer than necessary.

The increasing involvement of the private sector in national security measures is also of concern and raises some important questions about the transfer of personal information about Canadians across borders. Canadians expect that governments and the private sector will collaborate to protect against mismanagement of personal information.

Informing Parliamentarians and Canadians of privacy issues stems from our continued efforts to monitor compliance with the two federal privacy laws and investigation of complaints from citizens into potential privacy violations. We are also developing the Office's research capabilities to monitor new technological advances to provide timely and knowledgeable advice on the impacts of legislative and regulatory initiatives and apprise the public of privacy risks.

Rebuilding the Office

As mentioned earlier, rebuilding the Office has been a key focus. Audits of the Auditor General and the Public Service Commission identified a number of serious organizational challenges in this Office which I have committed myself to resolve.

I can confidently report we have made significant progress to address and remedy many of the issues highlighted in the audits.

A series of corrective measures have been taken including:

  • Implementing and strengthening our financial delegation and controls in October 2003. The Auditor General of Canada recently completed an audit of the Financial Statements of the Office and confirmed "... in all significant respects, that transactions have been in accordance with the Financial Administration Act and regulations and the Privacy Act."
  • Instituting a strategy for recovering public funds and assets that may have wrongly been appropriated. I reported on this to Parliament in April.
  • Developing a learning strategy to support executive leadership, staff training and organizational learning;
  • Creating an independent external advisory board to address governance challenges, and provide advice on strategy and vision.
  • Addressing many staffing, classification and compensation/remuneration irregularities which are an unfortunate legacy. We continue to work closely with central agencies on these issues;

    The recent Public Service Commission report on interventions with respect to the management of staffing at the OPC since June 2003 made public the results of the review of staffing files and confirmed that individuals, whose appointments were reviewed, were qualified for their existing positions. The report also concluded that progress had been made in addressing recommendations of the audit.

  • We continue to work with the Public Service Human Resource Management Agency on ongoing classification reviews and are nearing completion of this exercise. A total of 75% of the total classified positions have been reviewed. To date, we have maintained the level of 85% of the positions reviewed — 6 positions were downgraded and 5 positions were upgraded.

Since the audit carried out in 2003-2004, we have made a number of changes to improve how the office is run and to address the quality of our workplace.

  • We have engaged employees in a strategic planning exercise which has led to the development of a Report on Plans and Priorities. The process also contributed to the development of an HR strategy/action plan which was communicated to staff in April.
  • We have implemented an instrument of delegation of HR management authorities to clarify managers' accountabilities and initiated monthly communication to staff on employee mobility within the organization to support greater transparency.
  • We have designating an Assistant Commissioner as internal champion for Values and Ethics and as Internal Disclosure officer and organized an information session on the Values and Ethics Code of the Public Service and delivered a set of seminars on Value based staffing, Performance Management and harassment prevention.
  • Our Office has also created a Union Management Consultative Committee and a Health and Safety Committee to resolve mutual issues of concern.

Because of the length and complexity of the classification review process, it has seriously delayed the timing of the process for the organization of competitions for permanently staffing our vacant positions including several key management level jobs.

We are conducting a workforce analysis which will assist the organization in developing its staffing strategy. We have successfully submitted an EX resourcing strategy to the Public Service Commission for approval in principle and expect to finalize a draft staffing strategy to the PSC by the end of December.

Main Estimates

I would now like to address our main estimates. As you may be aware, the OPC has been funded to protect the data protection rights of Canadians in accordance with two federal statutes.

The OPC has an annual budget of $4.7M for implementation of the Privacy Act to investigate complaints from citizens, respond to public inquiries and carry out compliance reviews. This budget has not been substantially modified for years.

Under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) the Office was provided with a budget of $6.7M which sunsetted last year, was renewed for one year and was tabled to Parliament in the supplementary estimates A.

This has resulted in the fact that the main estimates only reflect requirements under the Privacy Act and do not currently reflect the funding needs of this Office to address the legislative requirements under PIPEDA.

Our Office is working in accordance with the Treasury Board Secretariat requirements to determine the appropriate level of funding required to carry out our responsibilities under the two acts. As well, the Office assumed additional responsibilities under the 2002 Treasury Board policy on Privacy Impact Assessments for which it has never been funded. To carry out this exercise, we have agreed to an A-base review of the Office's operations which will include a business process review of our investigation and inquiries functions which accounts for a significant portion of our resource utilization.

In 2005, we will then work with the Treasury Board Secretariat on a submission for long-term funding solutions and options with a mutual objective to secure an adequate level of funding so we can fully implement our institutional renewal strategy to further strengthen our HR practices and reposition our core operations and functions to meet the ever increasing complexity of privacy issues in both the public sector and private sector.

This is a pivotal time for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. We must continue to demonstrate value in educating and informing Canadians about the importance of privacy and renew confidence in the Office's capabilities to address the complexity of these issues.

I believe we are making slow, but steady progress towards that goal and would like to commend the Office staff for their professionalism and dedication while doing their best to serve the Canadian public in innovative ways.

We have laboured under unprecedented challenges, but I am confident we are emerging to be a more effective organization.

I will be happy to take your questions.

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