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Privacy commissioner frustrated by inaction

Jeanne Gagnon
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 5, 2011

Nunavut's information and privacy watchdog is frustrated with the territorial government, stating her recommendations have not been put to action.

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Information and privacy commissioner Elaine Keenan Bengts tabled her annual report at the fall legislature session. - Jeanne Gagnon/NNSL photo

The 2010-11 annual report by Nunavut's Information and Privacy Commissioner Elaine Keenan Bengts, was tabled in the legislative assembly on Sept. 28. In reports past, Keenan Bengts would recommend how to improve the administration of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and propose ways to achieve its goals more effectively.

"It is frustrating, to say the least, when year after year these recommendations come to nothing," she stated in her report.

So this year, she opted for just one recommendation - privacy oversight - or a way to monitor how "government agencies collect, use and disclose personal information."

"The rules are clear and focused. Unfortunately, however, they are unenforceable," she stated in her report. "There is absolutely no mechanism provided for in the act to ensure compliance or allow redress when the rules are not followed."

A $5,000 fine does not act as a deterrent for unintentional privacy breaches, she adds in the report.

Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak stated, via e-mail, she and the government agree with the report.

"I am pleased to say a review of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act is currently underway, which will enable the GN to move forward with updates to the act. Our goal is to amend the (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy) Act by 2012."

The act should include privacy oversight and put more pressure on municipalities to protect information, said Keenan Bengts during a break while appearing before the standing committee on oversight of government operations and public accounts on Nov. 24.

"One is the privacy oversight, which is absolutely essential because right now, there are rules about privacy; there is nothing to back it up," he said. "Municipalities are governments. They should be open and accessible and they should be also protecting the privacy of the individuals who live in their communities, and none of that exists at the moment."

The territorial government agrees the act should include mandated privacy oversight and agrees municipalities should, in some way, be subject to the act, according to Pam Coulter, Nunavut's director of communications. She stated, via e-mail on Oct. 12, the GN is looking at how municipalities could provide access and privacy services before being legislated to do so, thus enabling them to meet expectations of the act once it is changed to include them.

"However, subjecting municipalities to access and privacy legislation at this time might limit their ability to provide their communities with the current level of service," stated Coulter.

As to whether changes will occur, Keenan Bengts said Nov. 24 she is confident it will happen.

"Actually, I'm very confident," she said. "Until I'm proven wrong, I'm excited about the fact we're finally going to get some changes, I hope."

Although Nunavut is not a leader on privacy and access issues, she added, they are better than some.

"The Government of Nunavut is far more engaged on privacy and access issues than, for example, in the Northwest Territories, which I am also responsible for. They take the issues, they take them seriously," she said.

Quttiktuq MLA and committee chair Ron Elliott said changes to the act might occur.

"It's nice to see they're actually working towards amending the act," he said.

In her annual report, Keenan Bengts stated her office opened five review files - one privacy complaint and four access-to-information matters - between April 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011. The independent officer of the legislature oversees decisions made by public agencies under the act.

As a general rule, the public has the right to any record a public body holds under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act but there are exceptions, specifically with the protection of individual privacy.

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