Bill C-22 — An Act to establish the Department of Social Development and to amend and repeal certain related Acts
Bill C-23 — An Act to establish the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development and to amend and repeal certain related Acts
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Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities
December 9, 2004
Opening Statement by Jennifer Stoddart,
Privacy Commissioner of Canada
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Thank you for inviting me to comment on both Bill C-22 and Bill -23, the departmental Acts for Social Development Canada and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada respectively.
My remarks today are focused on my Office's support of the amended Protection of Personal Information provisions of both Bills that allow the continuation of the sharing of personal information, which existed between programs of the former department.
Although for the most part we are imparting our support, I will also be bringing your attention to some concerns our Office has with the clauses of Bill C-23 related to Ministerial discretion.
Protection of Personal Information Provisions
My Office was provided with a draft of the privacy code in advance of tabling and improvements were suggested and agreed to by SDC and HRSDC. I wish to commend department officials for their receptivity to our suggested revisions.
I believe the changes greatly improve the privacy protection regime of both department privacy codes and the tabled version of each legislation accurately reflects the agreement we had reached with the departments.
We are pleased for example to see that the provision has been amended to provide that information will only be made available to a federal institution prescribed under regulation for a prescribed purpose.
This amended provision is consistent with one of the key fair information principles that Canadians have become accustomed to under Canada's Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which governs the management of personal information in the private sector.
In the case of HRSDC, the amended privacy code will replace the existing provision in the Employment Insurance Act, which permits information to be made available "to such other persons as the Minister considers advisable". This kind of open-ended provision is one our Office has long fought against. From this point of view, the amended privacy code is an improvement.
The code also ensures more consistency within the department in administering personal information and provides a degree of transparency, by obliging HRSDC to publish in regulations, the names of federal institutions with whom it may share information and to identify the purposes for that sharing.
The code codifies the current administrative practices governing protection of personal information used for research purposes, as developed over the years by the department in consultation with our Office.
These provisions address concerns raised by my predecessor Commissioner Phillips regarding the Longitudinal Labour Force File.
In short, I believe the sharing provisions outlined in both Bill C-22 and C-23 are consistent with the Privacy Act and in several respects impose more exacting standards, over the Privacy Act which as I have expressed before Parliament, requires reform to more adequately protect privacy rights in the public sector.
Ministerial discretion — Disclosing personal information to provincial and foreign governments
While my Office supports the sharing provisions of the Bills, I would like to highlight one outstanding issue under Bill C-23, which we have brought to the attention of HRSDC. This issue relates to clauses 30 (1) and (2) of Bill C-22 and clauses 36 (1) and (2) of Bill C-23 dealing with the discretion of the Minister to disclose personal information to provincial and foreign governments. A copy of my suggested amendments under these clauses has been provided to the committee.
I would like to recommend subsections 30 (1) and 30 (2) of Bill C-22 and subsections 36 (1) and (2) of Bill C-23 be amended by replacing the words "if the Minister considers it advisable" in each subsection with the words:
if the Minister is satisfied that the information will be used for a purpose consistent with the purpose for which it was collected
Although I am pleased that the Minister may impose conditions on the release of personal information to provincial or foreign bodies, which renders the exercise more transparent and accountable, I am troubled by the lack of strictures on the exercise of that discretion.
In my view, personal information disclosed to provincial or foreign bodies should be subject to a "consistent use" test, whereby information could only be disclosed to a provincial or foreign body if the use of the information is consistent with the purpose for which it was originally collected. This suggestion has been shared with officials from HRSDC.
In closing, I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to address these issues, which I believe are essential to providing a reasoned approach to personal information protection.
Thank you. I will be happy to take your questions.
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