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.
Canadian stranded in Cuba dies suddenly at airport waiting for flight home – CTV News
A Canadian man who was stranded on a small island in Cuba has died while waiting for his flight home.
Travellers have been stranded on Cayo Largo del Sur for several days after a runway at the island’s only airport was damaged earlier this week.
On Wednesday, passengers flying back to Toronto were taken to the closed airport to be processed before they took a ferry to Cuba’s mainland. They were then flown out of Havana and arrived in Toronto around 5 a.m. on Thursday.
Ontario woman Chantalle Menchions said she was waiting for the ferry, along with other Air Transat passengers, when a man suddenly dropped to the floor.
The 24-year-old nurse said she ran over to the man but he didn’t have a pulse.
“People started screaming. It was chaos,” Menchions told CTV News Toronto on Thursday. She, along with four other people, immediately began to administer CPR.
“People were yelling and freaking out. I started yelling at people to get out of the way.”
“We checked for a pulse but there wasn’t one. He wasn’t responsive.”
Menchions said about 15 minutes later, a medical team arrived at the airport and took the man away. She said she was never given an update about the man’s condition.
In a statement to CTV News Toronto, Global Affairs confirmed the Canadian died. His name, age and cause of death have not been released.
“We offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the Canadian citizen who died in Cuba,” the statement released on Thursday said.
“Consular services are being provided to the family of the individual.”
Meanwhile, Air Transat confirmed one of their passengers needed medical attention.
“I can confirm that one of our passengers required medical attention prior to departure from Cayo Largo and was transported to the international clinic by ambulance,” Air Transat said in a statement to CTV News Toronto.
“As is the case for any situation involving our passengers, we will not give out any other information for reasons of privacy.”
“This delay in returning to Canada is the result of a situation beyond our control, and we regret any inconvenience that has resulted, but I can assure you our teams worked tirelessly in collaboration with Cuban authorities to safely bring our passengers home.”
Concerns raised about lack of medication
Travellers stranded on Cuba have expressed concerns that they were not able to access crucial medication while they were stranded.
“There were lots of people who ran out of medication. I know I personally ran out of mine,” Menchions said.
“I had people coming up and saying ‘I’m out of my blood pressure medication.’ But nowhere on the island had anything.”
Air Transat confirmed they received concerns from some passengers about a lack of medication but says additional medication was provided.
“Tour operator representatives on site contacted a doctor on the island and additional medication was provided to clients who requested it.”
Passengers taken on cockroach-infested ferry
Menchions said that after emergency crews arrived and took the man away passengers were put on a bus and taken to a ferry.
She said officials at the airport weren’t interested in speaking with her or any of the other people who performed CPR on the man.
“I was on the bus five minutes later,” Menchions said. “No one stopped to talk with us. We tried to talk to the doctor but they kept going.”
The ferry ride took approximately six hours. Menchions said after the sun went down, cockroaches came out and began crawling around the boat.
After they arrived in mainland Cuba, they were bussed to Havana where passengers eventually boarded an Air Transat flight to Toronto.
“It’s something I’ve never experience before,” Menchions said.
The airport is scheduled to reopen on Feb. 26.
The latest on protests across Canada in support of anti-pipeline demonstrators – CTV News
Here is the latest news on protests across Canada over a natural gas pipeline project in British Columbia:
The federal agriculture minister is indicating that help could soon be on the way for farmers impacted by barricades that have virtually shut down Canada’s rail network.
Marie-Claude Bibeau says 2019 and the beginning of this year have been difficult for Canada’s agriculture sector.
She told reporters in Ottawa today that she is looking for “practical ways” to support farmers who have been unable to get their products to market as a result of the barricades, but could not elaborate, saying she needs to speak with her cabinet colleagues first.
Rail and road barricades have been erected in several locations across the country over the last two weeks in solidarity with the hereditary leaders of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, who oppose a pipeline project on their territory in northwestern B.C.
The RCMP confirms the commander of the Mountie’s British Columbia division has sent a letter to Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, agreeing to discuss the future of a small contingent of officers stationed on traditional First Nation territory near the site of a disputed pipeline.
The letter from Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan says she is willing to meet with the chiefs to discuss what she calls the Community Industry Safety Office, located southwest of Houston along a road leading to the area where the Coastal GasLink pipeline is under construction.
Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet says the letter states that if there is continued commitment to keep the road open, the need for the police presence is “diminished or decreased.”
Shoihet says the letter was sent Wednesday.
She says Strachan also sent an internal memo to all RCMP employees in B.C., offering her appreciation for their “professionalism” during recent enforcement of a court injunction ordering demonstrators away from the pipeline site.
The memo tells members that management is aware the presence of the RCMP contingent on the road is considered by hereditary chiefs as a barrier to further dialogue, and RCMP management supports efforts now underway to find a long-term solution to the issue.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault says police will dismantle a rail blockade in St-Lambert, south of Montreal, if a court grants an injunction.
He says the blockade that went up Wednesday is not on First Nations land, making it easier to take action.
The blockade in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in British Columbia was erected on CN tracks, and has disrupted rail service for suburban commuters and travellers between Montreal and Quebec City.
A few dozen protesters, well stocked with supplies, tents, camping gear and firewood, are at the site today and say they plan to stay as long as RCMP remain on Wet’suwet’en lands.
Snow has been piled onto tracks, with signs strung across a cord hung between rail signals.
Protesters, who declined to give their names to reporters, describe themselves as supporters of the Wet’suwet’en and say they will take their direction from the B.C. First Nation’s hereditary chiefs, who are contesting the Coastal GasLink pipeline project.
Conservative leadership candidate Erin O’Toole says he would criminalize blockades of railways, air and seaports, major roads, businesses and households if he were prime minister.
The Ontario MP and former cabinet minister says police should clear blockades as soon as possible without having to wait for court injunctions.
Blockades set up in support of Indigenous protests of a natural-gas pipeline in British Columbia have halted rail traffic in Central Canada and temporarily blocked roads and bridges in spots across the country.
O’Toole also says he would take charitable status away from any group that accepts foreign contributions and encourages blockades.
To improve relations with Indigenous Peoples, O’Toole says he would fund an Aboriginal liaison officers in the RCMP.
Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the RCMP have offered to move officers away from the area where traditional leaders of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation have been opposing a pipeline on their territory.
Blair says that meets the conditions set by the chiefs, who have demanded that Mounties leave their traditional lands southwest of Houston, B.C.
But yesterday Chief Na’moks, one of five hereditary clan chiefs who lead the First Nation under its traditional form of governance, said pipeline builder Coastal GasLink must also pull out of the traditional territory before any meeting with provincial and federal politicians can proceed.
Canada’s minister in charge of Indigenous relations, Carolyn Bennett, and her B.C. counterpart Scott Fraser are in northern B.C. to meet with any of the hereditary chiefs who might be willing to talk.
Na’moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, said he is attending a funeral and is unavailable to meet today, while the other four hereditary chiefs are expected in Mohawk territory to thank members of that Ontario First Nation for their solidarity.
Nationwide protests and blockades followed a move by RCMP to enforce a court injunction earlier this month against the hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who had been obstructing an access road to the company’s work site.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2020.
Canadians can lose Nexus passes over legal cannabis use in Canada: U.S. document – Global News
Cannabis use may be legal in Canada, but if U.S. border guards find out about it, a person could have their Nexus pass taken away or not granted in the first place, secret instructions issued to managers at U.S. border posts say.
“If an alien admits to the use of marijuana (post legalization) he or she is technically admissible to the U.S., but would not be eligible for a Trusted Traveller Program,” the instructions say.
A software developer on the West Coast, who did not want to be identified for professional reasons, found out about the rule the hard way.
A dual U.S.-Canadian citizen, he went to renew his Nexus card at the Vancouver airport, a process that needs interviews with both Canadian and U.S. officials. The Canadian interview went smoothly, but the trouble began with the U.S. one.
“He just started asking rapid-fire questions: ‘Have you ever had a DUI?’ He was just looking for something,” he said.
“Finally he asked, ‘Have you ever smoked marijuana?’ He kind of curved his shoulders and looked at me.
“I told him I tried it when it became legal in Canada, but I don’t have any desire for it. I don’t like marijuana.”
Later he got an e-mail saying his renewal had been denied on the basis that he is “not a low-risk person.”
“The worst I’ve ever gotten is a speeding ticket,” he says. “I can’t believe this is actually happening to me. Even though it’s federally prohibited in the U.S., it’s legal in Canada. How can you hold that against me? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Prospective Canadian cannabis investor gets lifetime U.S. entry ban
The Customs and Border Protection policy creates a dangerous trap for people who don’t see a problem with admitting to legal cannabis use and are then surprised to find their pass taken away for life, says immigration lawyer Len Saunders.
“I get lots of phone calls from people who run into issues with the Nexus program,” he says. “As a U.S. attorney right at the border, they’ll call me and say, ‘I had this really weird situation that happened, I was conditionally approved, I went into the Nexus office, and I was basically interrogated by an American officer on my legal use of cannabis in Canada, and I walked away basically being told I wasn’t eligible.’
“The people are dumbfounded. When I tell them there’s really not a lot I can do, they’re shocked.”
It’s been clear that a policy along these lines has been enforced, lawyers familiar with the issue say, but a written copy hasn’t been public until recently, when it surfaced during a lawsuit.
The language used internally is clearer and harsher than in CBP’s media talking points about the issue, which use words like “could” and “may.” It’s also much clearer that it’s referring to legal use, not illegal use before October of 2018; the public talking points could be read either way. It also appears to include medical use as a ground for refusal.
Think twice about asking for a pardon, border lawyer says
Nexus cards allow pre-screened travellers to cross the border easily, often skipping long lines.
The U.S. rule also applies to the less well-known FAST program, which is designed to let commercial truck drivers cross the border easily.
“Usually it’s someone who’s younger, in their teens or early 20s,” Saunders says. “The officers will frequently ask if you’ve ever used cannabis in the past. A lot of times people admit to it, whether they’ve done it before legalization in Canada or after.
“They don’t realize that if they’re asked that question and they admit to it, it’s basically the kiss of death to getting a Nexus card. It’s an immediate denial and a lifetime ban from the program.”
The CBP instructions list 30 different cannabis-related scenarios that could come up at the U.S.-Canadian border, with correct solutions. All of the solutions are censored.
The lawsuit stems from a U.S. freedom-of-information request originally filed with CBP by Davis Wright Tremaine, a large Seattle-based law firm with a cannabis law practice.
The FOIA request was aimed at finding out the legal basis for CBP’s decision to treat Canadians with ties to the legal U.S. cannabis industry as “drug traffickers” liable to be banned from entering the U.S. for life.
Cases of this happening to unwary Canadians regularly come to light.
In 2018, senior executives in a Canadian farm equipment company were banned for life when they tried to cross the border to do a sales demonstration of a cannabis bud trimming machine. In a separate case, a B.C. man who admitted that he’d invested in a legal grow facility in Nevada was also banned for life.
(In the U.S., cannabis is federally illegal but legal in several states; the tensions and contradictions that result create traps for unwary non-Americans.)
In 2018, CBP said it would also bar Canadians working in the fully legal Canadian cannabis industry, but reversed this position a few days before legalization.
Davis Wright Tremaine’s lawyers take the position that they haven’t been given all the documents they’re entitled to, which led to the lawsuit. The goal is to find out what CBP thinks the legal basis is for policies like banning Canadians for life for involvement with the U.S. cannabis industry, says lawyer Chris Morley.
“There does appear to be, from CBP’s actions and statements, an actual policy that they’re implementing. There appears to be an interpretation of the Immigration and Nationality Act that they have turned into a policy. It appears that they developed this policy in April of 2018, and they started implementing it then.”
Morley says it isn’t clear to him how CBP justifies policies like these, based on the laws the agency is supposed to be enforcing.
“Really, the long game is to try to figure out what CBP’s policy is. CBP officials have discussed the policy, but we don’t know what it is.”
Global News asked CBP whether the rule in the manual was still their policy, what the legal authority for it was, and why the language intended for the public was milder than the language used internally. They refused to comment, citing ongoing litigation.
Past marijuana conviction could still prevent U.S. border crossing
Significantly, the instructions advise CBP officers not to try to use a law excluding people from the U.S. for being a “drug abuser or addict” on Canadian cannabis users.
Since U.S. law assumes that any level of use of controlled substances like cannabis is “abuse,” there have been concerns since legalization that it could be used to ban any Canadian cannabis user, no matter how occasional their use was.
“It is recommended that this ground of removal not be used due to being difficult to sustain,” the instructions say. However, the explanation that follows only addresses addiction and not abuse, a much looser category.
(No case of the provision being used this way has become public.)
Canadian lawyer questions government advice to be honest at U.S. border
The application for a Nexus card asks about a criminal record but not about drug use, licit or illicit. Questions about cannabis use, if any, come up at the U.S. interview.
Bellingham, Wash., immigration lawyer Scott Railton represented an elderly American couple who were denied Nexus cards after admitting in an interview that they used CBD to help them sleep, he says. CBD is legal in the U.S. in most contexts.
“It is both confusing and ridiculous,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The information was volunteered to be candid and truthful in relation to a certain question.”
Trudeau asked to provide pot-users with advice on crossing U.S. border
About 6.1 million Canadians used cannabis at least once in mid-2019, Statistics Canada says. About 1.4 million Canadians, and 400,000 Americans, have Nexus passes, the CBSA told Global News.
If asked the question, Saunders advises refusing to answer it. Not answering doesn’t have long-term consequences, but an admission does.
“I live in fear,” Saunders says. “I work right at the port of entry, in northern Washington State. I cross back and forth frequently. I live in fear that some silly decision by an officer could affect my Nexus privileges.
“It can be life-changing. If someone has to cross over on a daily basis and they lose their Nexus privileges, or they’re not issued a Nexus card when they move to this area, what happens is that they have to change their job, they have to change where they live. It’s unfortunate if it happens to be an admission to smoking cannabis, when legally they’ve done nothing wrong.”
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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