Does Bill C-51 violate your privacy? Watchdog says new law ‘not properly evaluated’

Demonstrators attend a protest on a national day of action against Bill C-51,.
Demonstrators attend a protest on a national day of action against Bill C-51,. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Canada’s Privacy Commissioner is taking aim at a controversial piece of Conservative legislation in his annual report, saying Bill C-51 was “not properly evaluated” before it became law.

Daniel Therrien tabled his report Tuesday morning in Ottawa. The document takes aim at the controversial omnibus legislation, which the new Liberal government says it will re-evaluate through a series of national security consultations launched earlier this month.

Among other things, Bill C-51 had a stated aim of improving information-sharing between federal government agencies in order to combat “activities that undermine the security of Canada.”

WATCH BELOW: Liberals expected to take summer to consult on Bill C-51 changes

Liberals expected to take summer to consult on Bill C-51 changes
Liberals expected to take summer to consult on Bill C-51 changes

The sharing law drew criticism at the time from Therrien, who said it could make available all federally held information about someone of interest to as many as 17 government departments and agencies with responsibilities for national security.

Story continues below advertisement

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has now found that the privacy impact of that bit of the legislation “was not properly evaluated during implementation” and is recommending that additional impact assessments be performed.

“There are two main concerns that I expressed when the bill was tabled before the House,” Therrien told reporters on Tuesday.

Tweet This

One was the lack of any independent oversight for the departments receiving the information, he said.

“That issue is being resolved in part through the bill the government has tabled to introduce a new parliamentary oversight committee,” the commissioner said, adding that there are “still gaps.”

His second concern, Therrien said, was that ordinary, law-abiding Canadians could get “caught up” in the information-sharing going on between agencies, compromising their privacy rights.

“That remains a concern,” Therrien said.

Tweet This

Therrien also noted that he found it “quite surprising” to learn that most departments affected by C-51, which include CSIS and the RCMP, did not conduct privacy impact-assessments related to the legislation.

Therrien added that a “guidance document” published by Public Safety Canada to help the departments implement their new information-sharing powers was flawed in several ways and that he flagged this to Public Safety Canada.

“No changes have been made a year after the (Office of the Privacy Commissioner) provided recommendations aimed at minimizing privacy risks,” the commissioner noted.

Tweet This
Story continues below advertisement

According to Therrien, his office will be contributing to the government’s recently announced national security consultations. But he’s not thrilled with the current plan for those consultations either.

“The scope … is too narrow,” Therrien said Tuesday.

“They don’t appear to be looking at key privacy concerns related to Bill C-51, such as the inadequate legal standards which allow for excessive information-sharing.”

Tweet This

Therrien also said he was “troubled by the tone” of the Government’s discussion paper on the matter.

“It focuses heavily on challenges for law enforcement and national security agencies, which doesn’t present the full picture. Canadians should also hear about the impact of certain surveillance measures on democratic rights and privacy. A more balanced and comprehensive national discussion is needed.”

With files from the Canadian Press.