An email titled "LGBT Refugees from Iran" that was sent from Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's MP office has raised concerns about whether the private information of Canadians may be used for partisan purposes.
Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community received an email from Kenney extolling the government's handling of cases of lesbian and gay refugees from Iran.
Some of the recipients are wondering how Kenney knew to target them based on their sexual orientation or interest in LGBT issues.
"I just thought, 'My God, this is complete propaganda, how did he get my email? What the heck is going on here?'" said Datejie Green, who is from Toronto.
The email touted what Kenney called his government's strong record of defending gay and lesbian rights around the world.
- Read the full text of Jason Kenney's email
"This is scary. This is actually really scary," Green said. "I wasn't just disturbed, I was frightened, because they're clearly stockpiling lists of particular constituencies of Canadians, for their propaganda."
Green, who is a health researcher, is also upset that the government is trying to "pinkwash" its activities — making them sound more gay and lesbian friendly than they really are.
She points to Kenney's recent cuts to refugee health programs, which she says have taken a direct toll on LGBT refugees who often need trauma counselling and basic medical care.
Several other Canadians also expressed anger about Kenney's missive Monday on social media sites like Facebook.
Privacy concerns over personal data collection
Randall Garrison, the NDP critic for LGBT issues, told reporters after Monday's question period that if a clear explanation doesn't come from Kenney's office, his party may make a formal complaint with federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.
"I think there's a serious privacy question here when the minister is obviously touching on a subject that's very sensitive to many people and connecting up sexual orientation with individual names and addresses," Garrison said. "I think we need a full explanation of how he put together that list."
Political parties fall outside the privacy laws, yet they amass huge amounts of highly personal information about citizens, including how they vote, their age, religious and ethnic backgrounds, and other details.
Stoddart has warned that Canadians have no legal rights when it comes to personal information collected by parties and held in databases for partisan use.
Kenney's spokesperson said Monday the email was a "response to individuals who have communicated with our office about gay refugee issues."
Email addresses may originate with online petition
Green says she never communicated with Kenney's office. However, she did sign what she believed was an online petition about a refugee claimant who was about to be deported.
Green has lodged a complaint with the privacy commissioner.
A senior source in Kenney's office said Tuesday the government did not mine petitions or other forms of mass communication to get the emails of LGBT Canadians.
The source said everyone in the email list had written to the immigration minister in an email. The source said it's possible some people signed an online letter campaign that automatically generates an email to the minister's office from the recipient's email address.
"If you wrote to us on an issue we wrote you back," the source said. "We didn't go out proactively looking for people's email addresses."
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