Appearances before Parliamentary Committees

Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act

Appearance before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

May 17, 2007


The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart, sent the following letter to Ms. Shaila Anwar, Clerk of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs regarding Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act.

 

Ms. Shaila Anwar
Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
The Senate of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A4

Dear Ms. Anwar:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to review and comment on Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act.

At present, the National Register of Electors contains the name, address, sex and date of birth of electors, but only the name and address are currently included in the lists of voters provided to polling stations on election day and to MPs, candidates and parties.
           
The stated purpose of the amendments to the Canada Elections Act put forward in Bill C-31 is “to improve the integrity of the electoral process by reducing the opportunity for electoral fraud or error”.  One of the amendments proposes to include the date of birth on the list of voters used on election day by polling clerks and scrutineers.

As I stated when I appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in June 2006, one of the basic rules of data protection is that personal information should be collected and used sparingly and in proportion to the problem it is intended to address. Before using date of birth information to reduce electoral fraud I would suggest that two questions should be asked:

  1. Is the problem of voter fraud so serious and sufficiently widespread to require the use of additional personal information?
  2. If it is a serious problem, is it necessary to provide polling clerks with the date of birth or can the same objective be achieved using less detailed information?

Even if it can be demonstrated that there is a problem that needs to be addressed, is it not possible that using the year of birth, as opposed to the date of birth, would be equally effective in terms of allowing polling clerks to confirm that the age of the person requesting a ballot is consistent with the age of the person on the voters list?

I am concerned about the further disclosure of date of birth information through the voters lists provided to election candidates and political parties. I fail to understand how the disclosure of birth information in this way would contribute to protecting or improving the integrity of the electoral process.

My understanding is that the only reason put forward at the Committee hearings on Bill C-31 to justify sharing date of birth information beyond the polling place on election day was because it is done in Quebec and it enables candidates and MPs to direct messages to constituents based on their age groups.

Providing date of birth information to politicians for the purpose of target-marketing of constituents is neither a use consistent with protecting the integrity of the electoral system nor a use that a person would reasonably expect when registering to vote.

I trust this information will be of assistance to the Committee in its deliberations.

Sincerely,

Original signed by

Jennifer Stoddart
Privacy Commissioner of Canada