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Privacy Commissioner of Canada releases report of his Office's review of the Canadian Firearms Program
Ottawa, August 29, 2001 - The Privacy Commissioner of Canada today released the report of his Office's review of the Canadian Firearms Program. The report makes 34 detailed recommendations aimed at reducing the privacy intrusiveness of the Program. The report was delivered to the Minister of Justice and officials of the Department of Justice, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), as well as other Program officials.
The Canadian Firearms Program is a multi-jurisdictional program that regulates the mandatory registration of all firearms in Canada and sets the licensing requirements for firearms owners under the Firearms Act. This legislation has a direct impact on more than 2.3 million owners of more than seven million firearms in Canada. The Commissioner's Office has received numerous complaints and inquiries about the Program since it was first proposed, including some from Members of Parliament.
"While gun control is important to the security of Canadians, the Program inevitably involves a significant intrusion on privacy. It requires the collection of a vast amount of personal information for purposes of the application and screening process," said George Radwanski, Privacy Commissioner of Canada. "On the whole, our review has not found any egregious violations of the Privacy Act. We have found, however, a number of instances where the privacy of Canadians could be strengthened."
The main privacy concerns about the Program and recommendations for corrective measures in the report relate to access and correction rights; and the collection and use of personal information. The recommendations carefully balance the need for public safety with the fundamental right to privacy.
Another one of the Commissioner's key concerns related to the highly intrusive nature of some of the "personal history" questions on the firearms application. The report recommends that one of these questions should be revised and two others eliminated because the Program did not provide a sufficient or "demonstrable need" for this kind of personal information.
Other recommendations in the report include the following:
- The Department of Justice should follow through on its 1997 promise to negotiate information-sharing agreements. This would ensure that personal information collected for the Firearms Program would be protected in accordance with the intent and spirit of the Privacy Act and principles of fair information practices, and that the federal Act would apply in cases where there is no parallel provincial or territorial privacy legislation. To date, there are no such agreements in place.
- Due to the multi-jurisdictional nature of the program and because personal information is held at three different levels of government, requesting access and corrections is unduly complicated and onerous. Under the Privacy Act, individuals have an explicit right to access information about themselves held by a government institution. This includes, but is not limited to, a right to request correction of the information. Consideration should be given to creating a single access and correction point at the federal level.
- The Firearms Act gives Firearms Officers very broad powers and discretion to investigate and gather excessive amounts of information about applicants. Access to police information should be tightened, restricting Firearms Officers to limited, specific and relevant information only. Firearms Officers should not be granted open and full access to the RCMP's Police Information Retrieval System.
- An auditing framework should be established to verify the validity and accuracy of the Firearms Interest Police records. The Department of Justice's Canadian Firearms Centre is responsible for issues respecting data quality on Firearms Interest Police and, under the Privacy Act, must maintain accurate, complete and up-to-date information.
- Consistent policies and procedures should be established across Canada to resolve correction issues related to the Firearms Interest Police database. This should go beyond simply referring clients back to the "source" agency to ensuring that corrections and notations are made in both the automated system and the original records.
- Policies and procedures should be implemented to ensure the necessary security measures are in place with respect to the handling of personal information by volunteer verifiers.
- Policies and procedures should be implemented regarding the collection of personal information from credit reporting agencies. The Privacy Commissioner questions the need to search Credit Bureau files.
The Privacy Commissioner is confident the Department of Justice will review the report thoroughly and recognize the importance of implementing all the recommendations.
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For more information, contact:
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Tel.: (613) 995-0103
The report, entitled Review of the Personal Information Handling Practices of the Canadian Firearms Program, is available on the Privacy Commissioner of Canada's Web site at www.priv.gc.ca.
The Privacy Commissioner of Canada is an Officer of Parliament and an advocate of the privacy rights of Canadians with a mandate to investigate complaints, and conduct audits and reviews under two federal laws; publish information about personal information-handling practices in the public and private sector; take matters to the Federal Court of Canada; conduct research into privacy issues; and promote awareness and understanding of privacy issues by the Canadian public.
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