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Interim Privacy Commissioner responds to OAG and PSC audits

(OTTAWA) September 30, 2003 - The Interim Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Robert Marleau, issued the following statement today in response to the audit reports made public by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) and the Public Service Commission (PSC) on the activities of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada:

"As Interim Privacy Commissioner, I fully acknowledge the importance of the findings, conclusions and recommendations made by the OAG and the PSC in their reports, which clearly reveal a major breakdown of external governance and internal control processes. The state of the financial and human resources management practices of this Office must be completely reformed. Serious allegations of misuse and abuse of public funds will require further probing by regulatory and law enforcement agencies. The staff, who has remained loyal to public service values and effective throughout this period, is profoundly distraught by the situation. I intend to act decisively on these issues and to seek, when and where possible, redress based on further consultation with the OAG, the Treasury Board of Canada and the PSC. A key priority for my Office will be to develop the institutional safeguards required to prevent a leadership and management deficit of such magnitude from occurring in the future.

I am determined and committed to addressing past wrongdoings, and to use the audit reports as a road-map for the future of this Office. I have adopted a principled approach to respond to these audits, and have identified six guiding principles which will direct action and decision-making:

  1. To rebuild and regain the confidence the Parliament of Canada and Canadians need to have a national institution responsible for defending and protecting privacy rights in Canada.
  2. To maintain and develop a strong operational capacity to ensure that this Office continues to deliver on its legislative mandate, especially as it relates to the coming into force, on January 1, 2004 of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act provisions regarding private sector privacy practices. Private sector firms will need help from our Office to understand their obligations and responsibilities under the new law. Citizens also will need to be made aware of their rights and duties under the new law.
  3. To integrate our response to the Auditor General and the Public Service Commission's audits of the Office's business, inspired by and conforming with the principles of Modern Comptrollership, in developing a feasible, comprehensive and fiscally responsible Action Plan. The implementation plan will be guided and reviewed by an external governance advisory body.
  4. To restore the overall wellness in the workplace by improving management practices, encouraging innovation, and engaging employees and their union representatives in re-building this vital institution.
  5. To sustain a process of organizational learning aimed at all levels of employees to ensure that the lessons learned will be shared, and the developmental needs of individuals will be met and will dovetail with the operational needs of this Office.
  6. Ethics and values, and a harassment-free work environment, will be the primary objective of the renewed management team.

Prior to the release of the reports of the OAG and the PSC, as Interim Privacy Commissioner, I also took early action to strengthen the management and financial framework of this Office. Upon my arrival on July 2, 2003, I immediately took steps to secure financial controls by retaining contracted financial expertise for the duration of the audit. Expertise in Human Resources was also retained. The recent Governor-in-Council appointments of two Assistant Privacy Commissioners, respectively responsible for ensuring compliance with privacy laws and each assuming horizontal management of key management functions, will guarantee ethical decision-making and values-based management, but will also ensure harmonization in policy insights and legislative perspectives.

More measures are also being contemplated and/or introduced at the moment of publication of these reports. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Responding to a Treasury Board funded study of perceptions and attitudes related to the implementation of the spirit and letter of Policy on the Internal Disclosure of Information Concerning Wrongdoing in the Workplace.
  • Appointing an external disclosure Senior Officer who would operate in conformity with the current Policy on the Internal Disclosure of Information Concerning Wrongdoing in the Workplace.
  • Hiring, under an institutional MOU, an external audit team to develop a risk management based Audit Plan and initiate its implementation in early 2004/05.
  • Creating an independent external advisory board to address the governance challenges of the OPC and provide advice on strategy and vision.
  • Developing and implementing a strategy to recover public funds and assets that may have wrongly been appropriated by past and current employees of this Office.
  • Completing a control self-assessment carried out by an independent audit team to ascertain the Modern Comptrollership capacity at the Office, as it currently stands (July 2003).
  • Taking legally-founded actions to remediate staffing, classification and compensation/remuneration actions that have been judged unjustified by auditors from the OAG and the PSC.
  • Developing, with an appropriate education institution, a comprehensive learning strategy to support executive leadership, staff training and organizational learning.

I wish to commend the excellent cooperation that we have received from the audit teams of the OAG and the PSC, and I would also like to thank the staff of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, who have offered their full participation to the audit teams, despite the fact that many have experienced personal and professional hardships under the previous regime. Their journey will not be in vain.

I have been impressed by the staff's commitment and I look forward to continue to work with them as together we re-build this institution which is so vital to our Canadian democracy. Canadians should know that our core business is healthy; it's the rest that requires attention. I am confident that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada will ultimately emerge as a more effective organization which upholds the principles of the Public Service while, at the same time, delivering on its mandate to protect and defend the privacy rights of Canadians."

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For more information, please contact:

Anne-Marie Hayden
Media Relations
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Tel: (613) 995-0103

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