‘Appalling’ privacy breach as Canadian officials share sensitive info of Brazil woman with man in Ontario
Nathan Mills wants one thing: to provide for his family and take care of his 11-year-old son who has been diagnosed with leukemia.
The 39-year-old Iraq war veteran moved to Canada from Michigan in 2007. He lives in Port Hope, Ont. — just over 100 kilometres from Toronto— with his wife Amanda and two sons, who are all Canadian citizens.
Mills applied to become a permanent resident in December 2016, but received a letter from Canadian immigration officials in July 2017 stating that his application has been denied and he “MUST leave Canada immediately.”
However, after reading the denial letter he quickly realized that although the document had his name at the top, the information, including passport numbers, bank accounts and telephone numbers, belonged to a 60-year-old woman from Brazil living in Nova Scotia.
“You want to say mistake but it’s almost to the level of incompetence at this point,” Mills told Global News. “If I have this person’s information then where is mine? Is it in Nova Scotia in the hands of a Brazilian being deported back to Brazil?”
Mills and his family are furious not only by the privacy breach but by a lack of response from Immigration Canada and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office after repeated attempts to contact them.
“I would assume that someone would at least want to say ‘we’ve heard you, we are acknowledging that there is a mistake,” he said. “Someone has to acknowledge that the problem exists so we can figure out what the solution is.”
Mills applied for residency based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds as his son Travis is battling leukemia and requires trips to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto.
“His prognosis is good but he needs care,” Mills said. “What else does anyone want except to take care of their family?”
Christine Roth, an immigration lawyer representing the family, said she is shocked by the level of private information disclosed. And not just for her client but for the woman living in Nova Scotia whose banking information was shared.
“This is a breach of privacy at so many levels,” Roth told Global News. “Whether it is the visitor who is trying to stay here from Brazil, whether it is all of her sponsors with their direct phone numbers and all of their information or the main sponsor who has provided detailed banking information to the government.”
Roth said she has attempted to contact Hussen’s office but hasn’t received a response.
“If this is what [Mills] is getting, is his application going somewhere else with all of his financial information? And how many other citizens [are affected]?” she said.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said it’s investigating and has contacted Mills for more information.
“The Government of Canada takes its privacy obligations very seriously and responds to privacy breaches as quickly as possible, by immediately containing a breach, sending letters of notification and apology and implementing measures to prevent the reoccurrence of a breach,” Beatrice Fenelon, a spokeswoman for the department said in an email.
Roth said she had to send copies of Mills’ documents in the first quarter of 2017 after immigration officials stated the original had become “lost.”
“Who got the original application, we don’t know. It was not in the system,” she said. “As long as the government does not take action with an inquiry to look into errors of various agents and make them accountable for their mistakes this can happen to anyone, and anywhere, at any time.”
The handling of Mills case is “appalling,” said Ann Cavoukian, executive director of Ryerson University’s Privacy and Big Data Institute and former Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner.
“It’s a huge invasion of privacy,” Cavoukian said. “It’s bad enough that the sensitive information of someone else is mistakenly divulged to him, which is outrageous, but to add insult to injury they don’t do anything about it.”
“The sensitivity of the personal information disclosed in this unauthorized manner would speak to how serious this is,” she said. “It doesn’t get any more severe.”
A spokesperson for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada says it’s looking into Mills’s case.
However, for Mills, he said he’s been offered employment as a carpenter and hopes the immigration mistake is resolved quickly.
“I have a great job offer,” he said. “We’ve done everything on our end that needed to be done to have this handled. We just need some cooperation with the government.”
— With files from Tom Hayes
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.