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Ottawa Has A Double Standard When It Comes To Protecting Privacy

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It is now almost a pattern: every time we, as a human right organization or activist, write to government agencies inquiring about cases of Canadians detained abroad or of Canadians subject to abuse or possible discrimination, the governmental response will certainly contain somehow the issue of "privacy."

"Privacy concerns" have been used as a powerful pretext for inaction or silence and this should be challenged and denounced.

This behaviour is in total contradiction with what is written by the Privacy Act.

Similarly, another argument often evoked by the government for not providing us with answers is the "national security" argument. As scary and intimidating this argument sounds, murky and hollow it turns out to be. Indeed, we can never know for sure, if the concern of "national security" is real or simply a good pretext that would benefit the political interest of the government rather than the public interest.

Unfortunately, this apparent obsession with privacy seems to be very selective. In fact, we noticed that when individual cases would benefit out of disclosing information about them to activists and groups, the government is adamant about privacy. On the other side, when information about citizens are being threatened or shared with government agencies without their knowledge or consent, the government doesn't seem to be much caring or to say the least outraged.

This behaviour is in total contradiction with what is written by the Privacy Act. Indeed, section 8(m) of the Privacy Act allows for the release of information in some situations:

"Section 8(2) Subject to any other Act of Parliament, personal information under the control of a government institution may be disclosed:
(m) for any purpose where, in the opinion of the head of the institution,
(i) the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs any invasion of privacy that could result from the disclosure, or
(ii) disclosure would clearly benefit the individual to whom the information relates."

But those provisions seem to be falling on the government deaf ears.

Meanwhile it was recently reported that the federal government departments breached the privacy of more than 45,000 Canadians in 2015 and only limited numbers of those breaches were ever reported to Daniel Therrien, Canada's Privacy Commissioner (OPC).

These double standards regarding privacy issues are also very well illustrated by the troubling examples of the cases of the kids who are found in the "No-Fly" list.

For instance, it is worth noting that the Canada Revenue Agency, one of the agencies with most reported breaches (3,868) affecting 13,665 individuals, is one of the agencies that reported the least number of breaches to OPC.

It isn't clear if this huge number of breaches is a direct consequence of the implementation of the controversial information-sharing powers including in the Anti terrorism Act 2015 (Bill C-51). However, we recently learned from media report that at least four agencies: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and a fourth agency whose name has been redacted, have used the information-sharing provisions. It should be reminded that C-51 expends the list of agencies benefiting from the "generous" sharing of information to 17 agencies.

These double standards regarding privacy issues are also very well illustrated by the troubling examples of the cases of the kids who are found in the "No-Fly" list. The government, despite all their recent promises in the media that they will deal with the matter, never told us how the names of these Canadians children came to be on that list. Is it possible that their names were racially profiled and thus shared with the U.S. "No-Fly" list? Is Transport Canada sharing these names with Air Canada or other airline carriers? If this is the case, how come that no safeguards have been taken into account?

Many crucial questions that should be taken seriously. It is time for the government to stop this schizophrenic attitude toward "privacy" and come out clean about it.

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