Letter to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons on Bill C-31

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May 25, 2007


The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart, sent the following letter to the Honourable Peter Van Loan, Leader of the Government in the House of Commons regarding Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act.

The Honourable Peter Van Loan
Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Room 209-S, Centre Block
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Minister:

I am writing further to my appearance before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on May 17, 2007, with respect to Bill C-31, An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act.  In particular, I’m writing in response to questions posed by Senator Baker about earlier comments I made before a House of Commons Committee about the issue of the addition of the date of birth on the electors’ list.

In June 2006, during my appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on the Canada Elections Act, I was commenting on various ways to identify voters to minimize the risk of voter fraud.

I was not commenting on a specific proposal, and at that time, Bill C-31 had not yet been introduced. My comments of June 2006 are consistent with the comments I made before the Senate Committee on Bill C-31 on May 17, 2007.

On both occasions, I raised a number of concerns about adding the date of birth to the electors’ list. I have consistently stated that one should not consider using additional information to identify voters unless it was clear that there is a problem that needs to be addressed and that the use of personal information to address this problem is likely to be effective and proportionate.

Once the personal information collected by Elections Canada is disclosed to candidates and political parties, it is no longer subject to the Privacy Act. The Privacy Act applies to government departments and agencies, including Elections Canada. The Act does not apply to Members of Parliament, candidates, political parties or volunteers.  Therefore, the personal information on voters’ list that is disclosed to these parties is only protected to the extent that the provisions in the Canada Elections Act are adequate to prevent this information from being misused. As I indicated when I appeared before the Senate Committee, I think that these provisions should be strengthened.

I would also like to use this opportunity to draw your attention, as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, to an issue that I raised several times. As I stated in a letter addressed to the Clerk of the Privy Council in September 2006, “?appearing before Parliamentary Committees to give advice to Parliament on bills is perhaps the most important way we can contribute to my Office’s mandate of protecting privacy rights of Canadians. Often we are asked to appear without much notice... I believe that the public interest would be better served by engaging my office earlier in the process”, i.e., during the development of policies or as bills are drafted.  It would allow us to raise our preoccupations at that time, giving Departments more time to respond to our concerns.

As I indicated during my appearance on May 17th, my office has expressed concerns about the problem of identity theft. The issue is being examined by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics and I appeared before that Committee earlier this month to recommend that the government take a leadership role to identify and combat the problem of identity theft. Bill C-31, as drafted, may possibly increase the risks posed by identity theft if more personal information is released than necessary and without adequate safeguards.

I hope that I have clarified any confusion that might exist about my position on the issue of including the date of birth on the electors’ list provided to candidates and political parties during an election.  Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any additional information.

Sincerely,

Original signed by

Jennifer Stoddart

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