Statistics Canada building and signs are pictured in Ottawa on July 3, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Statistics Canada building and signs are pictured in Ottawa on July 3, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Statistics Canada report says agency not at fault in leak of April 2020 job-loss data

OTTAWA — A final investigation report on how last April’s jobs numbers leaked out early says Statistics Canada wasn’t the source, confirming early suspicions from agency officials that the unauthorized release came from elsewhere.

The report, dated June 5 but released Tuesday, doesn’t say how the details of historic pandemic-caused job losses in April made it into a news story before the agency officially released them.

But it says that 10 interviews and a review of 210 emails and 116 telephone logs showed no agency personnel were involved, nor was technical error to blame for how high-level findings were reported by Bloomberg News before the release on May 8.

Just over 40 minutes before Statistics Canada officially released the April jobs numbers, Bloomberg News cited a “person familiar with the matter” saying the country had lost about two million jobs in that month.

Before the day was out, staff at the statistics agency were ordered to preserve documents, the chief statistician called for an end to sharing pre-release data with select federal departments, and an investigation plan was laid out.

The details are in dozens of pages of internal emails and reports obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act about the leak and investigation.

Similar investigations were to take place in multiple departments that had access to the data.

Statistics Canada has for years provided in advance key economic indicators like jobs numbers to select federal officials who oversee programs that could be directly affected by the figures.

Recipients sign confidentiality agreements and are forbidden from briefing ministers until after markets close at 5 p.m. the day before a release. The investigation report even notes that briefings with top Statistics Canada officials avoided using specific numbers for jobs gains or losses.

The worry with jobs numbers is that they can move markets, one internal document noted, pointing to a Globe and Mail analysis “showing unusual market volatility” around the time of the leak.

“People can’t start to believe that there are people with privileged access,” said former chief statistician Wayne Smith.

“We can’t find ourselves in the situation where people are getting access to data and trading on the markets in advance of the official release, to their benefit. That would undermine Statistics Canada’s credibility dramatically.”

Before the pandemic, the Finance Department, the Privy Council Office (which aids the federal cabinet), and Employment and Social Development Canada (which oversees the federal social safety net), got early looks at jobs data.

In March, the Bank of Canada, which had received advance word of quarterly gross domestic product figures, and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, whose minister is responsible for Statistics Canada, were added to the list.

In the middle of the afternoon on the day of the leak, chief statistician Anil Arora recommended a pause on sending advance copies, doing so in an email to Ian Shugart, clerk of the Privy Council.

By the end of the day, the mandate for the investigation was largely set: find the source of the leak, figure out if policies were followed and sufficient to prevent such a leak, and determine whether the advance showings should continue.

One internal document said “the journalist indicated that the source was not Statistics Canada.”

Any hunt for the source would likely be futile, said Don Drummond, a former senior Finance official, who noted how no one ever seemed to be identified in leaks during his years in government.

“And then you started to ask after the fact what happened, and it was always released deliberately from the political side,” said Drummond, an adjunct policy studies professor at Queen’s University.

Drummond said he didn’t see a need for any advance releases given that government officials have hours to scrutinize the statistics before a minister could be questioned on the numbers.

Statistics Canada said any decision to restart the advance looks at jobs data would be done in consultation with the clerk of the Privy Council and when it is confident that “new measures taken, as a result of the investigation report’s recommendations, have further enhanced the already strict conditions and secure measures that exist.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Jayden Grubbe is one of three Rebels on the NHL Central Scouting players to watch list for the 2021 NHL Draft. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Rebels seek consistency ahead of matchup with Hitmen

The Red Deer Rebels had to deal with a pang of regret… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney and Minister of Health Tyler Shandro to announce investments to reduce surgery wait times. (File photo by BLACK PRESS)
More than 16K surgeries, procedures delayed in Alberta due to COVID-19

COVID-19 has delayed more than 16,000 surgeries and procedures in Alberta, as… Continue reading

Quinn Mason died from an opioid overdose at the age of 23 in June 2020. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta mother whose son died from overdose advocates for ‘change’

It’s been about nine months since her son died from an overdose,… Continue reading

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Thursday that the province was ready to move forward with Phase 2A and B in the coming weeks. (Photo by Paul Taillon/Office of the Premier)
Majority of Albertans to receive first shot before June 30: Shandro

Shandro says all Albertans should be offered the COVID-19 vaccine by June 30

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw acknowledged that Friday would be one year since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the province. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three more Red Deer COVID-19 deaths, 331 active cases in Alberta

Red Deer is down to 362 active cases of the virus

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Dillon Dube scores hat trick for Flames in 7-3 win over Senators

Dillon Dube scores hat trick for Flames in 7-3 win over Senators

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp gives instructions during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Phil Noble, Pool via AP)
Liverpool slumps to historic 5th straight loss at Anfield

Liverpool slumps to historic 5th straight loss at Anfield

Philadelphia Flyers' Sean Couturier (14) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Flyers rally from early deficit to stun Penguins 4-3

Flyers rally from early deficit to stun Penguins 4-3

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen reacts to a goal by Winnipeg Jets' Paul Stastny, left, during first-period NHL hockey action in Montreal on Thursday, March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Pierre-Luc Dubois scores overtime winner as Winnipeg Jets edge Montreal Canadiens 4-3

Pierre-Luc Dubois scores overtime winner as Winnipeg Jets edge Montreal Canadiens 4-3

Toronto Raptors guard Terence Davis (0) shoots after grabbing a rebound against Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Boston. At right is Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Tatum scores 27, Celtics outlast depleted Raptors 132-125

Tatum scores 27, Celtics outlast depleted Raptors 132-125

International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel answers a question during a news conference addressing hockey issues at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. The International Ice Hockey Federation has confirmed the postponement of the women's world hockey championship in Nova Scotia to May 6-16. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP /Mark Humphrey
IIHF postpones women’s world hockey championship in Nova Scotia to May

IIHF postpones women’s world hockey championship in Nova Scotia to May

Quebec Premier François Legault chairs a virtual news conference Thursday, March 4, 2021 in Montreal. The premiers from the left are: John Horgan, B.C.; Jason Kenney, Alberta; Scott Moe, Saskatchewan; Legault, Quebec; Brian Pallister, Manitoba; Doug Ford, Ontario; and Blaine Higgs, New Brunswick. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Premiers reiterate demand for $28-billion increase in health transfers from Ottawa

Premiers reiterate demand for $28-billion increase in health transfers from Ottawa

Most Read