Statement from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada following the tabling of Bill C-51

GATINEAU, QC, January 30, 2015 – Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien today issued the following statement regarding the tabling of Bill C-51, the federal government’s proposed new national security legislation:

Protecting public safety is an essential duty of the state, but national security responses to acts of terror such as the horrific attacks recently experienced here and elsewhere must be proportionate and designed in a way that protects democratic values that are pillars of Canadian society. This was the central message of a joint statement on national security and law enforcement measures endorsed by all Privacy and Information Commissioners of Canada last October.

Canadians want to be safe but they also care profoundly about their privacy rights. They also want government to be more transparent on the activities they undertake in the name of national security and they want to know why these are necessary.

It is with these principles and expectations in mind that my Office will examine very carefully the proposals in Bill C-51.  I will share more detailed comments with MPs and Senators in due course, as they study this proposed legislation.

My comments today, without the benefit of having had the opportunity to fully analyze the Bill, focus on issues surrounding information sharing and oversight, although later comments may include other relevant aspects of the Bill.

At this early stage, I can say that I am concerned with the breadth of the new authorities to be conferred by the proposed new Security of Canada Information Sharing Act.  This Act would seemingly allow departments and agencies to share the personal information of all individuals, including ordinary Canadians who may not be suspected of terrorist activities, for the purpose of detecting and identifying new security threats.  It is not clear that this would be a proportional measure that respects the privacy rights of Canadians. In the public discussion on Bill C-51, it will be important to be clear about whose information would be shared with national security agencies, for which specific purpose and under what conditions, including any applicable safeguards.

I am also concerned that the proposed changes to information sharing authorities are not accompanied by measures to fill gaps in the national security oversight regime. Three national security agencies in Canada are subject to dedicated independent oversight of all of their activities.  However, most of the organizations that would receive and use more personal information under the legislation introduced today are not. Gaps in the oversight regime were identified long ago, notably by Justice O’Connor in the report he made at the conclusion of the Arar Inquiry.  Extending the jurisdiction of oversight bodies would be an important step towards the greater transparency that Canadians expect.

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