05/09/2013 05:24 EDT | Updated 07/09/2013 05:12 EDT

Alberta says child protection bill will continue despite privacy concerns

EDMONTON - Alberta's human services minister says it's full speed ahead with proposed legislation to help protect children despite concerns from the privacy commissioner.

Dave Hancock said Thursday he still hopes to pass the bill in the current legislature sitting.

"We'll have to have a respectful disagreement on some of these points," Hancock said.

Hancock introduced the proposed Children First Act in the house earlier this week. It would amend and clarify a number of laws affecting the care of children — everything from maintenance enforcement to stronger powers for the child and youth advocate.

It also would make it clear that police, foster parents, social workers and educators could share personal information on children to help them out of difficult circumstances.

The minister said helping children is his paramount concern.

"We hear this from the field all the time, from people who are supposed to be collaborating for the health, education and safety of children, to be able to share the information they know," he said.

"We're not talking about that information being shared publicly. We're not talking about that information going out on the street. We're talking about that information being shared between qualified professionals."

Privacy commissioner Jill Clayton said Wednesday she is concerned there would not be enough safeguards to ensure a child's confidential information didn't end up in the wrong hands.

Clayton suggested tighter controls would be needed to ensure that information acquired for one reason didn't get used for something else.

She recommended that any legislation include mandatory requirements for privacy impact assessments, a duty to record disclosures and reporting of privacy breaches to her office.

Hancock said the bill can always change as it goes through committee hearings. He pointed out Clayton's office was consulted while his team was drafting the document.

"We made some changes to what we were doing based on advice from the privacy commissioner's office," said Hancock.

"I thought we had accomplished what they needed."

He said he was very surprised to see additional concerns raised.

Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman echoed Clayton's concerns.

"This always starts out with the best intentions. They're just trying to do the best thing for children," said Blakeman.

"But further down the line, this government is very interested in privatizing out to private sector companies, so we can have children's information out in the private sector where it's not protected."

Blakeman said she will introduce amendments to strengthen the proposal's privacy aspects.

"As much as I'm all for protecting children, there's a reason why we put that strong (privacy) legislation in place, and it should not be whittled away word by word by the government because it is convenient to do so."

The Calgary-based Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, which helps children who have been physically and sexually abused, said it supports the bill.

"Front-line workers have consistently brought to our attention the need to share critical information in a timely, sensitive and integrated manner," the agency said in a news release.