Conservatives blast Trudeau government over StatCan collection of personal financial data

The Conservatives blasted the Trudeau government for the second straight day over Statistics Canada’s plan to collect the personal banking data of hundreds of thousands of Canadians without their consent.

In question period Tuesday, Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to halt the national statistical agency’s plan to build a massive personal information bank, following a new report from Global News that revealed the agency has already collected 15 years of data from the credit bureau TransUnion of Canada.

“Stats Canada has written the country’s nine largest financial institutions and demanded that they hand over millions and millions of financial transactions from hundreds of thousands of Canadians and, but for a Global News report, Canadians would never know that the government was this far into their personal information,” Raitt said. “They know now and they are appalled.”

Trudeau said his government is ensuring that the personal data of Canadians is protected and that the data collected will not include personal identifiers.

“No personal information will be made public,” the prime minister said. “However, high quality and timely data are critical to ensuring government programs remain relevant and effective for Canadians.”

Global News revealed that the data harvested from TransUnion was done without the consent or knowledge of those Canadians whose credit history was passed on Statistics Canada.

The agency, which has broad powers to compel any organization to turn over data that organization collects, directed TransUnion to provide social insurance numbers, names, addresses, dates of birth and detailed credit information, including balances owed, balances overdue, and more than 30 other fields or categories of data.

The requests were made in October 2017, and more recently in January 2018. TransUnion confirmed the data transfer but would not say how many records were transferred, but implied it was not its entire Canadian consumer data set.

Conservative MP Dan Albas urged the government to cancel the initiative amid concerns of privacy breaches or mishandling of data.

“We aren’t talking about transactions with possible criminal links. These are regular Canadians going about their business,” Albas said. “Mr. Speaker, it’s 2018, not 1984. When will the Liberals hear these privacy concerns?”

Raitt and Trudeau continued to trade political jabs with the Conservative MP, demanding the prime minister ask Statistics Canada to “stand down.”

“Everything that we use in our lives is something this government wants to have their hands on Mr. Speaker this is ridiculous, will they tell Stats Canada to back down,” Raitt said.

Trudeau accused the Conservatives, under former prime minister Stephen Harper, of governing by ideology over facts.

“The Conservatives attack data science and evidence as the grounding of strong public policy,” the prime minister said. “They continue to show they continue show they are the party of Stephen Harper, they are still the party of a war on science and facts.”

The political fireworks in the House of Commons come amid a growing debate over Statistics Canada’s ability to gather massive amounts of personal information without the knowledge of Canadians, which they are legally allowed to do.

Toronto-based privacy expert Peter Hope-Tindall discovered Statistics Canada had retrieved his credit report from TransUnion. He was told by the agency that it had not asked for his credit information specifically but had obtained all records on any Canadian consumer held by TransUnion.

In a letter to Hope-Tindall, Statistics Canada said, “by using administrative data sources such as TransUnion, Statistics Canada is able to improve data quality, meet new and ongoing information needs, reduce data collection costs and save time for Canadians who respond to our surveys.”

Statistics Canada said the credit information it obtained is aggregated and used for statistical purposes only. It also said all personal identifiers are stripped from its database.

Global News asked Federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains if he would okay have his private banking information shared with Statistics Canada.

“It’s not about me. It’s about Canadians at large. Are they comfortable with this? Do Canadians understand what are the challenges and risks associated with this and do they understand what the process is,” Bains said. “This is where I think we all need to work together to make sure we all address issues around privacy and data protection.”

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