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Appearance before the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce on the collection of financial information by Statistics Canada

November 8, 2018
Ottawa, Ontario

Opening Statement by Daniel Therrien
Privacy Commissioner of Canada

(Check against delivery)

Good morning Senators.

With me today from my office is Lara Ives, Director of Government Advisory and Sue Lajoie, Executive Director, Privacy Act Investigations.

I would like to thank the Committee for the invitation to speak about the collection of financial administrative data by Statistics Canada. It is obvious that a number of Canadians have concerns about this activity.

After having received complaints related to Statistics Canada and its collection of personal information from private sector organizations, I have opened an investigation. To be clear, the investigation is the result of individual complaints, not an invitation from Statistics Canada. That said, we are pleased that the Chief Statistician has welcomed this investigation.

My legal obligation from this point forward is to investigate these complaints fairly and impartially under the law. I therefore cannot prejudge the outcome of the investigation.

I would also like to remind the Senators that section 33(1) of the Privacy Act prevents me from sharing details on ongoing investigations.

I am at liberty to tell you that I have received 52 complaints on this matter as of this morning.

At the end of the investigation I would be happy to report back to this Committee on my findings if you so wish.

Statistics Canada has been consulting with us for some time on its administrative data collection program. Indeed, Statistics Canada regularly consults us on the privacy implications of many of their initiatives; it is always open to a dialogue and often accepts our recommendations. However, the purpose of these consultations was not to pronounce on the legality of the program, but rather to make suggestions that Statistics Canada could consider in its development.

My Office does not have the authority to pre-authorize programs being developed by federal agencies. We make findings on compliance issues in the strict sense of the law as a result of the formal investigation process, which we have just launched.

Beyond the law as it is, which we will make findings on at the conclusion of our investigation, I will say this: while administrative data has been collected by Statistics Canada for decades, perhaps as early as 1921, it is clear that a number of Canadians are concerned with the scale of personal data of a financial nature to be collected by the agency.

I have often spoken publicly about the need to modernize our privacy laws, in both the private and public sectors. One of my recommendations, first made in March 2016, is particularly relevant in this instance: that the Privacy Act be amended to require that the collection of data by public sector organizations be authorized not  when relevant or useful to government programs, but only where necessary and when the scope and breadth of the data collected is proportional to the public policy goals the data is intended to serve.

This is a simple and uncontroversial amendment that would increase significantly the privacy of Canadians, while bringing our law in line with relevant international standards.

With that, I am happy to answer any questions you may have. 

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