Appearance before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on Standing on Guard for Thee: Ensuring that Canada’s Immigration System is Secure

February 16, 2012
Ottawa, Ontario

Opening Statement by Jennifer Stoddart
Privacy Commissioner of Canada

(Check against delivery)

Good afternoon Mr Chair.

Thank you for the invitation this afternoon to discuss a crucial issue for all Canadians, the security of our visa and immigration system.

This is a technically complex area, which is why I have asked two experienced officials from my office to accompany me today. Dr. Andrew Patrick has studied and written extensively on the issue of identity management, verification and the use of biometrics. He also represents my organization in privacy oversight at INTERPOL. Also with me today is Lindsay Scotton, who has been managing the review of Privacy Impact Assessments of federal government programs in my Office for nearly a decade.

Let me start by saying I acknowledge the importance of improving the security of Canada's immigration system. This objective is all the more crucial when we know that Canada was built on immigration and that, since 2006, we have welcomed the highest sustained level of immigration in nearly a century. Many immigrants and refugees of today will be the Canadian citizens of tomorrow, contributing their talents and entrepreneurship to Canada's continuing success.

As the Honourable Members certainly know, the Privacy Act imposes obligations whenever the federal government collects personal information. Federal agencies must ensure certain safeguards, must limit secondary use, and must list their data holdings publically – irrespective of the citizenship of the individuals involved.

Also, should any legislative or regulatory changes be made to the immigration system, I would expect to receive detailed privacy impact assessments from the appropriate institution.

This is why it is particularly important to strike the right balance between a necessary scrutiny to weed out bad apples and a commitment to uphold our democratic rights and freedoms, including the right to privacy, when we process the information related to individuals who will either be visiting our country or who are on their way to becoming Canadian citizens.

With that, let me now ask Dr. Patrick to discuss some of the key technologies and privacy implications involved in our visa and immigration system – and I would be happy to take your questions at the end.

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