Statcan’s plan to harvest private banking info on hold, pending investigation

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada’s controversial plan to harvest personal financial data without people’s consent is on hold until an investigation of the legality and intrusiveness of the project is finished, the country’s chief statistician said Thursday.

The federal statistical agency recently caught nine financial institutions off guard by informing them they were required to share banking information from Canadians in 500,000 households across the country. Canadian law lets Statistics Canada compel public and private institutions, including commercial banks, to turn over data they hold.

The ensuring public outrage has put a spotlight on Canada’s privacy laws, which critics have called outdated and inadequate in an era where privacy fears are deepening and data is becoming an increasingly valuable commodity.

The concerns have triggered heated political exchanges in the House of Commons, where opposition MPs have accused the government of state surveillance and authoritarianism. Under frequent grilling by the Conservatives, the governing Liberals have insisted the agency will protect Canadians’ privacy while producing important, reliable data.

The uproar has also stirred up serious concerns in the financial institutions that were contacted — and prompted federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien to launch an investigation into the matter.

Facing intensifying public pressure, chief statistician Anil Arora told a Senate committee Thursday that the banking-data project will not proceed until Therrien has finished his work and Canadians’ privacy concerns have been addressed.

“We have not received a single piece of information yet from any of those financial institutions,” he told the committee, which held a special hearing to explore the issue.

Even so, he said, the data the agency wants would stay secret.

“Who do we share this information with? No one,” Arora said. “The individual record is not shared with a minister, with a court, with law enforcement officers, CSIS, you name it — nobody gets access to that individual record.”

Arora defended the “pilot project” as a part of Statistics Canada’s efforts to modernize and improve its data-collection efforts, which are designed to help the agency continue providing high-quality information — especially given the rapid expansion of the digital economy. For decades, the agency has provided key data to help guide everything from financial markets to the Bank of Canada to lawmakers drawing up social programs.

The new plan, however, only became public following a recent report by Global News.

Even Therrien, whose office was consulted on the project by Statistics Canada, said he had no idea about its scope until “very recently.”

“We were all struck in the recent news by the amount of data (sought) from a large number of dwellings in a very detailed way,” Therrien told the Senate committee Thursday. “I think that’s what strikes everyone — large segments of the population — as an important part of the issue.”

The investigation will conclude whether Statistics Canada’s plan is lawful or not, he said.

The privacy commissioner also recalled his 2016 recommendation that the law be amended to authorize government agencies to collect data only when necessary, and when the breadth of the information gathered is proportional to the public-policy goals. That would bring Canada’s laws in line with international standards, Therrien added.

At one point in his appearance, Therrien was asked by a senator whether he thought the government had been transparent about its intentions from the start.

“I think it was certainly a surprise,” Therrien replied after a pause. ”We did not know about the numbers until very recently. I think this is a crucial fact.”

He continued by saying Statistics Canada took some steps to be transparent, “but obviously they fell way short.”

“I have to conclude, given where we are today, that the measures that Statistics Canada took were deficient on the issue of transparency, for sure,” Therrien said.

Just Posted

ReThink Red Deer gets thumbs up from city on pollinator barn structure

Group is hoping to get a $40,000 building grant

Team Alberta athletes arrive in Red Deer on Saturday for pre-games orientation

Excitement is building with less than a month to go, says Team Alberta spokesperson

Springbrook Skate Park gets financial boost

Province approves $125,000 grant for proposed skate park

UPDATED: STARS Lottery is back

Lacombe STARS patient tells his story

Former Red Deer man named Mr. Gay Canada

To compete in Mr. Gay World

Trudeau says politicians shouldn’t prey on Canadians’ fears

The Prime Minister was speaking at a townhall in Ontario

Asteroids are smacking Earth twice as often as before

The team counted 29 craters that were no older than 290 million years

Canada’s arrest of Huawei exec an act of ‘backstabbing,’ Chinese ambassador says

China has called Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou ‘politically motivated’

In limbo: Leftover embryos challenge clinics, couples

Some are outright abandoned by people who quit paying storage fees and other couples struggle with tough decisions

Netflix rejects request to remove Lac-Megantic images from ‘Bird Box’

At least two shows on Netflix’s Canadian platform briefly use actual footage of the 2013 tragedy

Teen vaping is an epidemic: US government

E-cigarettes are now the top high-risk substance used by teenagers, outpacing cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana

‘I never said there was no collusion,’ Trump lawyer says

President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani says he has ‘never said there was no collusion’

Body of Canadian miner found after African kidnapping

Kirk Woodman’s body was discovered 100 kilometres from the site where he worked for Progress Mineral Mining Company in Burkina Faso

Canada’s Conners on his way to full PGA Tour card with fast start to 2019 season

Corey Conners was working on his putting last Friday when fellow Canadian… Continue reading

Most Read