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CCRA collected medical information for tax purposes

We received a complaint from a family who alleged that the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) had improperly collected their personal information from a provincial medical insurance plan. The family moved to Africa for three years and before leaving Canada the husband consulted with the CCRA and was told that, for tax purposes, he would be considered a non-resident during his absence from the country. Yet upon returning to Canada he was told that he did not meet the requirements for non-resident status and was taxed accordingly. He later obtained his personal information following a Privacy Act request to the CCRA and learned that it had asked the provincial insurance provider for all medical records about him, his wife and his children-including records originating some eight months prior to their departure for Africa and almost 2 1/2 years after their return to Canada.

We established that in order to qualify for non-resident status for tax purposes the CCRA must be satisfied that an individual has sufficiently severed ties with Canada after moving to another country. The CCRA relies on provisions of the Income Tax Act as its authority to obtain sufficient information in order to assess non-residency status. It routinely conducts inquiries when assessing an individual's status, including verifying whether the individual continues to make claims under a provincial medical insurance plan during the time absent from Canada. The fact that an individual made such a claim could be an indication that all ties with Canada had not been severed.

The former Commissioner was satisfied that the CCRA had the necessary authority under the Income Tax Act to collect personal information about each family member from the province in order to make a determination on their residency status. Nevertheless, he was concerned about the extent of the medical information collected, particularly the information for the periods of time both before the family left the country, and after it returned. CCRA officials did not disagree with the concern that requesting medical information for the 2 1/2-year period after the family's return was excessive.

Under the circumstances, the former Commissioner determined that the CCRA collected more personal information than was necessary and, as a result, had exceeded its authority under section 4 of the Privacy Act. He found the complaints well-founded and recommended that the CCRA destroy the information that it obtained from the province.

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