Federal departments or agencies have mishandled personal information belonging to 144,000 Canadians over the past two years, according to new figures tabled in the House of Commons — and not everyone who was swept up in a privacy breach was told about it.
The new figures were included in the federal government’s answer to an order paper question filed by Conservative MP Dean Allison late last month. The nearly 800-page response didn’t offer an explanation for the errors, which range in seriousness from minor hiccups to serious breaches involving sensitive personal information.
“There’s a significant problem with the way that the government protects personal information,” said David Fraser, a privacy lawyer at McInnes Cooper in Halifax.
“The numbers that we’re consistently seeing reported out of the federal government are higher than they should be and significantly higher in my view.”
The Canada Revenue Agency leads the pack in breaches, with more than 3,005 separate incidents affecting close to 60,000 Canadians between Jan. 1, 2018 and Dec. 10, 2019.
The department blames the breaches on misdirected mail, security incidents and employee misconduct.
“We consider a single privacy breach to be one too many,” said CRA spokesperson Etienne Biram. “Two-thirds of the total individuals affected were as a result of three unfortunate but isolated incidents.”
In one of those cases, a protected hard drive containing personal information belonging to 11,780 individuals was inadvertently made accessible to some CRA employees in January 2019. There’s no evidence that any of the exposed files were accessed by people who weren’t entitled to see them, said Biram.
In another case, a CRA employee accessed accounts belonging to two individuals and briefly viewed information belonging to another 11,745 individuals.
“These individuals are not notified since the risk to them is deemed to be extremely low,” Biram said.
Health Canada reported 122 breaches affecting close to 24,000 people over the same time period. Health Canada did not respond to CBC’s request for more information.
More than 20,000 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation employees saw their information breached in 17 separate instances — the most serious involving the theft of computer equipment containing confidential information in May, 2018.
A handful of departments holding confidential information, like Employment and Social Development Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, also saw more than 2,000 breaches.
Employment and Social Development Canada said some of its own information breaches involved lost or misdirected passports and birth certificates.
We don’t get to choose as citizens what governments we deal with, and governments are custodians of a significant amount of highly sensitive personal information.– Privacy lawyer David Fraser
Even the keepers of Canada’s official secrets aren’t immune. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Communications Security Establishment and the RCMP all reported missteps as well.
The Department of National Defence said most of its 170 breaches, which affected more than 2,000 people, were due to inappropriate access to, or use or disclosure of, personal information.
The numbers tabled in the House aren’t precise, so the 144,000 figure could fall short of the real number.
Many departments reported they didn’t know how many people were affected by individual information breaches, or how many were subsequently contacted and warned.
For example, the Correctional Service of Canada, which holds personal information on federal inmates, was responsible for more than 300 breaches — but didn’t provide statistics on how many individuals were affected.
Figures likely higher
Fraser said the government’s standards for protecting personal information and reporting breaches should be higher than those in private sector firms, which have to follow strict reporting rules under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
“In the private sector, individuals can choose what businesses they do business with. If they don’t like the privacy practices of a bank, they can go to another,” he said.
“But we don’t get to choose as citizens what governments we deal with, and governments are custodians of a significant amount of highly sensitive personal information.”
A spokesperson for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner said it’s still reviewing the order paper question, adding the office has highlighted gaps with the reporting system in the past.
“We have raised concerns about strong indications of systemic under-reporting of certain types of breaches across government,” said Vito Pilieci in an email to CBC.
Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien has been pushing for changes to the Privacy Act to make breach reporting mandatory. As it stands, federal departments only have to alert affected individuals in the event of “material” breaches — cases involving sensitive personal information which reasonably could be expected to cause serious injury or harm to an individual, or ones affecting large numbers of people.
Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy at the University of Ottawa, said that while there’s a risk involved in warning Canadians too often of information breaches, government departments can’t always be trusted to come clean when they make mistakes.
“That is the classic conundrum. On the one hand, you don’t want to get people so used to data breaches … so that every time they get a notification they think, ‘Whatever, doesn’t matter.’ You want people to pay attention when it’s necessary to pay attention,” she said.
“At the same time, you don’t want the discretion being exercised on the side of avoiding embarrassment, so that internally the nature of the severity of the breaches is played down because an organization really just doesn’t want to have to own up to the fact that they’ve had a significant data breach.”
Victims have limited options
There’s not much in the way of recourse available to victims. They can file complaints under the Privacy Act with the commissioner, who can investigate and make recommendations.
“But in terms of actual recourse that compensates an individual for whatever harm they might have suffered, or for any lost time, frustration, anxiety that they may have suffered … that’s not provided for in the legislation,” said Scassa.
She said more people are turning to class-action lawsuits for financial satisfaction in these cases. In 2017, the government agreed to pay at least $17.5 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed after a major privacy breach involving about 583,000 student loan recipients.
Scassa said that while lawsuits can be the only option for information breach victims “frustrated with government,” fighting those lawsuits in court ends up costing taxpayers money.
“The ideal is for the government to find and implement measures that substantially improve data protection within government without making it … a financial money pit,” she said.
All the departments that responded to CBC’s requests for comment insisted that they take security seriously and offer their staff training to prevent breaches.
Quebec's first presumptive case of coronavirus detected, health minister says – CBC.ca
Quebec’s first presumptive case of the coronavirus has been detected in a woman who recently returned from a trip to Iran, according to the provincial health minister.
The woman took a plane from Iran to Qatar before arriving at the Montreal airport on Monday, Health Minister Danielle McCann said Thursday evening at an impromptu news conference.
She immediately went to an outpatient clinic in the Montreal region with minor symptoms and was quickly given a mask upon entering, McCann said.
The patient was then put in isolation at a nearby hospital where the proper infection-control measures were “very well implemented,” McCann said.
Health workers had no significant risk of exposure, said McCann, who declined to specify exactly where the medical facilities are located.
She said medical professionals are confident the patient had “limited contact” with others and that the infection-control methods were effective. However, health officials are still investigating who the patient may have come into contact with at the clinic and is monitoring everybody involved for signs of the virus.
“The detection of this case shows that our system is efficient, it is reliable and that the management protocol is well established,” the minister said.
“All the measures that are necessary to protect the population, to protect the workers and take care of the patients, if it occurs, are there.”
A diagnosis is considered presumptive until confirmed by the National Microbiology Lab (NML) in Winnipeg. McCann said those results are expected Sunday.
McCann said the woman did not take public transit to get to the clinic, and hadn’t gone back to work since returning from Iran. She is now in isolation at home for “a period of time and she is doing fine,” the minister said.
There are currently 21 other possible cases under investigation in the province.
“There is no need to worry,” said McCann. “The risk remains low.”
The ministry said a probable case of COVID-19 is determined by several factors, including a body temperature of more than 38 C and meeting COVID-19 exposure criteria.
The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a global health emergency. More than 81,000 cases of the coronavirus have been detected since it emerged in the Hubei province of China last year.
In Canada, there are currently 13 confirmed cases, with the latest reported this morning.
‘Support them or lose them’: Chinatowns across Canada grapple with coronavirus fears – Global News
Most of Calgary’s city councillors had lunch at a restaurant in Chinatown this week to try to help reduce fears about the new coronavirus.
Businesses in Chinatowns across Canada have reported a drop in activity since COVID-19 hit China in January and started to spread around the world.
At Ho Wan Restaurant in Calgary, the owners’ son, Jason Zhang, says business is down about 70 per cent.
“People are not coming out very much,” he said in an interview. “It was the slowest Family Day I’ve seen.
“It’s hard to predict when people come out … but, in general, especially during the regular times, it’s just a percentage shock.”
Coun. Druh Farrell, whose ward includes Chinatown, said council members went to the restaurant for lunch to show Calgarians it’s safe to eat out.
“Business in Chinatown is way down — in some restaurants 70 to 80 per cent,” she said.
“It’s a dreadful burden on the businesses, so we wanted to show our support and encourage Calgarians to stand behind their local businesses, especially in Chinatown.”
There have been no cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, but there are 12 confirmed cases in Ontario and British Columbia. Around the world, about 81,000 people have become ill with the virus. The World Health Organization is reporting cases in 37 countries outside China.
Calgary city council steps out for lunch, stops in Chinatown to support hurting businesses
Concerns about a decline in visitors have been reported in Chinatowns across North America.
In the United States, there’s a campaign in New York to “Show Some Love for Chinatown.” Food crawls have been arranged to help Chicago’s Chinatown and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited San Francisco’s Chinatown District on Monday to try to quell fears.
Chinatown businesses in Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto have all reported a decline in customers.
Alex Wang, who runs the Peninsula Seafood Restaurant in Vancouver, told Global News he has seen business drop more than 70 per cent and is worried the restaurant won’t be able to survive longer than three months.
In Edmonton, the chairwoman of the Chinatown and Area Business Association said there’s been a noticeable decline in activity this winter.
“There’s a general fear out there with the coronavirus,” said Holly Mah.
Some of that drop, she said, could be related to the generally slower winter season and Alberta’s sluggish economy.
Toronto’s Chinatown has also noticed a decline in customers.
“It’s a concern,” said Tonny Louie, chairman of the Chinatown Business Improvement Area. “People, in the back of their minds, they still wonder what will be next. This virus … is pretty hard to contain.”
Coronavirus fears fueling racism
He said business has picked up in the last couple of weeks, but noted streets were quiet after the first patient was admitted to hospital in Toronto.
“It was completely desolate for a week and a half,” he said. “No cars at all. And there’s all kinds of parking spots in Chinatown, so that means people were not coming in.”
Louie said some people have started to return, but there’s a dip every time there’s bad news.
“Not a lot of facts are known,” he said. “So far, they haven’t been able to identify a vaccine or a cure for it, other than go home and get rested up and isolate yourself and wash your hands.”
Louie said the group will be handing out hand sanitizer and dispensers to all businesses to help ease fears.
“Right now, the only possibility that they are talking about catching it is with hand touching and contact, so we can solve that problem at least.”
Back in Alberta, health officials reminded people Wednesday to take precautions.
“Practice good infection prevention habits,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said in Edmonton. “Protect others by staying home when you are sick and covering coughs and sneezes.
Hinshaw said the risk in Alberta remains low and there is no need to stay home or avoid public places.
Farrell said she will continue to tell people about her favourite spots in Calgary.
“Chinatown is filled with family-owned restaurants and we need to support them or lose them,” she said.
“It is a treasured community.”
Premier Kenney stops in Calgary’s Chinatown to discuss coronavirus concerns
© 2020 The Canadian Press
Canada will not pay for Prince Harry and Meghan's security after March – CBC.ca
Canada has been providing RCMP security to Prince Harry and Meghan since November, Public Safety Canada has confirmed to CBC News, after weeks of speculation about whether Canadians would have to pay for the couple’s security bills while they are in this country.
But the Government of Canada intends to cease contributing to those costs “in the coming weeks,” says the office of Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex cease their activities as working members of the Royal Family on March 31.
A statement to CBC News Thursday morning reads in full:
“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex choosing to relocate to Canada on a part-time basis presented our government with a unique and unprecedented set of circumstances. The RCMP has been engaged with officials in the U.K. from the very beginning regarding security considerations.
“As the Duke and Duchess are currently recognized as Internationally Protected Persons, Canada has an obligation to provide security assistance on an as-needed basis. At the request of the Metropolitan Police, the RCMP has been providing assistance to the Met since the arrival of the Duke and Duchess to Canada intermittently since November 2019. The assistance will cease in the coming weeks, in keeping with their change in status.”
CBC News had been asking the government to reveal the arrangement under which Harry and Meghan have relocated to Canada.
British media, citing British sources, said that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had already given the U.K. a commitment that the Canadian government will contribute to the costs.
But Trudeau had never confirmed that.
Trudeau told Global TV on Jan. 13 that the Canadian government had not really been involved in any negotiations around the couple’s new arrangements.
“We haven’t, up until this point, not in any real way. But there will be many discussions to come on how that works … that will go about between officials at different levels,” he told Global TV.
Trudeau and other government officials had cited the need to keep security arrangements confidential as a reason not to disclose the arrangements made for Harry and Meghan. He had also said that discussions had not yet concluded.
When asked about it at a cabinet retreat in Winnipeg on Jan. 21, shortly after the couple confirmed their plan to move to Canada, Trudeau replied: “I have not spoken to her majesty directly…. Discussions continue to be ongoing and I have no updates at this moment.”
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Feb. 9, Trudeau said: “I don’t comment on operational details, but there are long-standing protocols in place that are being followed.”
It now appears the discussions have concluded with an outcome that leaves the question of security at the door of the couple themselves, and of the British government and Metropolitan Police that have always been charged with their protection.
By cutting off the famous couple “in the coming weeks,” the Trudeau government avoids taking on a deeply unpopular financial burden.
Polls by Leger and the Angus Reid Institute have found that only about one in five Canadians believe it is an appropriate use of tax money to pay for the couple’s security arrangements.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation delivered a petition to the Prime Minister’s Office with 80,000 signatures on it insisting that Canadian taxpayer money not be diverted to them.
Public Safety’s reference to the government’s legal obligation to provide security to what are called Internationally Protected Persons describes a group that includes visiting diplomats, dignitaries and functionaries of other governments who are in Canada on an official visit.
Harry and Meghan arrived in Canada as full working members of the Royal Family on a temporary visit, and the RCMP has always provided security for those visits, with taxpayers picking up the bill.
By the time Trudeau spoke in Munich earlier this month, much had changed. Harry and Meghan had announced their plans to leave their royal roles behind. Under an agreement reached with Buckingham Palace, they will officially end their royal duties on March 31.
The question of who will pick up the tab for the couple’s security after March 31 is far from settled.
The British media in recent days has been full of stories citing anonymous Metropolitan Police sources complaining about the strain the couple’s move has put on the force.
Security experts, including retired Met police protection officers, have estimated that the cost of protecting the couple in their new life could fall in the range of $10 million to $30 million a year.
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