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LETTER: StatsCan overstepping its bounds, says Stanton

Conservatives calling on Liberals to halt this 'intrusion into the private lives of Canadians'
Simcoe North MP Bruce Stanton says citizens' personal financial date should be protected. Contributed photo

OrilliaMatters received the following letter from Simcoe North MP Bruce Stanton in response to media reports about Statistics Canada collecting personal financial data:

As the result of a recent Global News report, we have become aware that Statistics Canada is requiring banks across the country to disclose financial transaction data and personal information of upwards of 500,000 Canadians to develop a “new institutional personal information bank.”

What is alarming is that it’s being done without the knowledge or consent of the individual account holders. The news report revealed that the agency has already harvested sensitive customer data from the credit reporting agency, TransUnion of Canada. The Canadian banks requested by StatsCan have yet to comply with the order.

In my opinion, Statistics Canada’s proposed new Personal Information Bank is a great concern and a potential over-reach of StatsCan’s mandate.

My party is calling on the government to immediately halt what it believes is an intrusion into the private lives of Canadians.

Prime Minister Trudeau is defending the decision by Statistics Canada to compel banks and financial institutions to release personal transaction data.

The personal banking and financial transactions being requested includes bill payments, cash withdrawals from ATMs, credit card payments, electronic money transfers and even account balances of Canadians across the country.

This request for personal banking information by Statistics Canada has now triggered a formal investigation by the Privacy Commissioner, Daniel Therrien.

It may have ramifications for Canada’s trade agreement with the European Union, which provides for much stronger privacy protection of personal data under Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, or PIPEDA.

There is a possibility that if Canadian financial institutions comply with the StatsCan directive, they may run afoul of Canadian-European treaty rules governing privacy and be severely fined under PIPEDA.

It is essential that this type of data be protected. It is private. It should only be accessed by persons, other than account holders, through express permission.

It appears that is not the case here. Protecting Canadians’ personal and financial data that is held by federally regulated institutions, such as banks, is the responsibility of the federal government.

I am the first to agree that aggregating data for good policy making is a sound practice of Statistics Canada, but I have grave reservations of what this new information bank is for, how it will operate, and most importantly who will have access to it.

It may be helpful to policy makers to have accurate financial data in the digital age, but the government should explain how this can be done without account holders’ permission.

It seems to me that the recommendation of the federal Privacy Commissioner, for banks to first remove any personal identifiers before the data is provided to StatsCan, is a far better way to ensure the privacy of highly sensitive personal information.

It would require oversight and transparency to ensure the safeguards are in place to protect this information. But, until these processes are in place, the government should step back from any further gathering of this information.

Bruce Stanton, MP Simcoe North