Appearance before the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on Bill C-6, the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act

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November 18, 2009
Ottawa, Ontario

Statement by Chantal Bernier
Assistant Privacy Commissioner of Canada

(Check against delivery)

Thank you for inviting me to appear before you today.  We commend the Committee for its concern with privacy, which is a cornerstone of our democracy and a fundamental value for Canadians.

Allow me to state at the outset that our Office welcomes the purpose of Bill C-6, in protecting the public by addressing risks that some consumer products pose to human health and safety, and is satisfied with its privacy safeguards. 

As you know, I set out our position on the privacy implications of Bill C-6 in my October 26th letter to the Committee. 

We understand that the issue raising concern for some members of this Committee is the definition of “government” in this bill – specifically with regard to clause 15 on the issue of the disclosure of personal information by the Minister.  We believe that concerns about clause 15 are addressed by the undertakings Health Canada has made.

While I agree that the definition of “government” could be very broad, the policy and procedural safeguards that Health Canada has articulated appear to be adequate. 

In my letter to Health Canada, I quoted what I believe to be the most relevant parts of the department’s answer to us on the issue of disclosure of personal information.  However, allow me to provide you with more details in this regard.

We understand that Bill C-6 would lead to only a minimal collection of personal information and that it would be a rare occurrence for this information to be disclosed.  Moreover, the disclosure would only be when absolutely necessary to protect human health and safety.

The department further explained that, while the Bill does not include a regulation-making authority for the Minister to obtain written assurances as to the confidentiality of the information provided under clause 15, the operating principle would be to never disclose personal information unless it is critical for the protection of human health or safety.  As well, the department stated that it will continue to have confidentiality agreements in place before disclosing personal information.  It also said it would require that personal information disclosed under clause 15 to be used only to identify or address a serious danger to human health or safety. 

As an additional measure, we asked Health Canada how they intended to maintain a clear account of all disclosures of personal information so that our Office could monitor them and understand the rationale for each one.  The department replied that disclosures of personal information by the Consumer Product Safety Program would be made in consultation with, and with the agreement of, Health Canada’s Access to Information and Privacy Coordinator, who exercises the Minister of Health’s powers, duties and functions under the Privacy Act.

We were satisfied with this response and also put on the record that we wanted all outstanding issues to be further explained through the Privacy Impact Assessment process following the adoption of Bill C-6. By “outstanding issues”, we mean any issue that may further arise in the implementation of Bill C-6. Privacy Impact Assessments – or PIAs – are a tool that departments use to put new or revised programs , as Bill C-6 would entail, under the privacy microscope.

We review PIAs and may provide commentary. PIAs are proving to be a very useful tool to assess the privacy implications of new government initiatives.

In conclusion, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has no concern with Bill C-6, has appreciated Health Canada’s cooperation in addressing possible privacy concerns and intends to continue to work with Health Canada officials in the implementation of Bill C-6.

I hope this helps explain our involvement with this bill to date. I would be pleased to take your questions.

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