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Ottawa, June 18, 2002 - The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, George Radwanski, today sent the following letter to the Honourable David Collenette, Minister of Transport, on the subject of Bill C-55:
Dear Minister Collenette:
On May 6 and May 15, I wrote to you regarding my concerns about section 4.82 of your Bill C-55.
Other than your letter of May 15 stating only that you had forwarded my correspondence to you to Solicitor-General Laurence MacAulay for a reply, I have received no response from you on this important matter.
As you are no doubt aware, Minister MacAulay's reply to me did not substantively address any of the specific privacy concerns that I had brought to your attention.
As I have emphasized to you in my previous letters, Bill C-55 is indisputably your legislation. Not only was this Bill presented to Parliament by you and bears solely your name as its sponsor, but the section in question, 4.82, proposes amendments to the Aeronautics Act which falls within your responsibilities as Transport Minister. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to understand how the principle of ministerial accountability could be reconciled with purporting that the need to justify deeply disturbing provisions such as this rests with some minister other than yourself.
Because the proposed provisions that are at issue would have extremely serious impact on the fundamental human right of privacy to which all Canadians are entitled, and because they would create a precedent that opened the door to further unjustified intrusions, I simply do not have the option of letting the matter rest.
I therefore wish to bring to your attention again that section 4.82 of Bill C-55 goes far beyond the stated anti-terrorism and security purposes of this legislation. By giving the RCMP and CSIS unrestricted access to the personal information of airline passengers for purposes that include looking for individuals wanted on a warrant for any of more than 150 Criminal Code offences punishable by imprisonment for five years or more, this section would strike unjustifiably at the privacy right of Canadians to be anonymous with regard to the state.
You have provided no explanation whatsoever as to why it would not be sufficient to limit this provision to allowing the RCMP and CSIS to access the passenger information in question, check it against data bases of known or suspected terrorists, and then immediately destroy it if no such match is found. As I have previously made clear, I would raise no privacy objection to such a more limited provision, which I believe can be justified as a reasonable anti-terrorism measure.
I wish further to bring to your attention that the concerns that I have raised in this matter have been publicly endorsed by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia and the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario; by members of every party in the House of Commons, notably including your own caucus member who is an internationally recognized expert on human rights, Irwin Cotler; by editorials in newspapers including the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, the Vancouver Province, the Calgary Herald, the Edmonton Journal, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the Sault Star; and by prominent national affairs commentators including James Travers of the Toronto Star and Andrew Coyne of the National Post.
If there are considerations that nevertheless lead you to be convinced that you are right while all of the above, in addition to the Officer of Parliament specifically mandated to oversee and defend the privacy rights of Canadians, are wrong, then I respectfully suggest that it would be timely to explain your reasons without any further delay.
In the absence of such an explanation, it is my duty to request an undertaking from you that you will present amendments to fix this unjustified, unnecessary and unacceptable provision. In my letter to you of May 15, I detailed the specific amendments that I believe would be appropriate.
The purpose of these amendments is solely to limit RCMP and CSIS use of air traveller information to purposes related to anti-terrorism and security by deleting the reference to searching for individuals wanted on a wide range of other warrants, and to facilitate oversight by the Privacy Commissioner in cases where passenger information is retained indefinitely even though there is no specific match to known or suspected terrorists.
The proposed amendments would in no way impede the legitimate anti-terrorism and security purposes of the legislation. Rather, they would make the legislation appropriately respectful of the privacy rights of Canadians without in any demonstrable way diminishing our safety or security.
I would appreciate your prompt reply.
Privacy Commissioner of Canada
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