NDP joins Conservatives, asks Trudeau Liberals to shut down controversial StatCan projects

The federal New Democrats joined the opposition Conservatives Friday in demanding that the Trudeau government suspend or shut down some controversial Statistics Canada plans to harvest the personal financial data of 500,000 Canadians without their consent.

The Conservatives have asked dozens of questions on the topic every day this week, since Global News first reported on Statistics Canada plans last Friday. The NDP, though, has used its parliamentary time to focus largely on other topics.

But on Friday, NDP MP Brian Masse, his party’s consumer affairs critic, lambasted the Liberals for letting Statistics Canada move forward with a plan to have the country’s nine largest banks and credit companies turn over detailed personal financial information of hundreds of thousands of Canadians without notifying them or obtaining their consent.

“Canadians are appalled to learn that Statistics Canada plans to access their detailed personal banking information. They were never consulted and did not consent,” Masse said in the House of Commons. “Building a massive database of personal banking information without telling anyone is just wrong.”

A parliamentary e-petition was opened Thursday afternoon under the sponsorship of Conservative MP Michelle Rempel. The petition, drawing on the reporting of Global News and initiated by Gabe Bakos of Calgary, calls on the government “to immediately cancel this initiative which amounts of a gross invasion of privacy.”

As of midday Friday, Bakos’ e-petition had more than 6,000 signatures, two-thirds of which came from Alberta and Ontario.

Neither Prime Minister Justin Trudeau nor Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, the minister responsible for StatCan, were in the House of Commons Friday, leaving Liberal MP David Lametti, Bains’ parliamentary secretary, to fight off the opposition attacks on the StatCan project.

“This is a pilot project currently in the design stage. No data have been collected to date. It is Statistics Canada that would be gathering the data, not the government,” Lametti said. “Statistics Canada as an institution has an exemplary record of gathering the personal information of Canadians. It has been doing it for 100 years, in a safe and secure fashion and will continue to do so.”

On Wednesday, Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said his office would investigate Statistics Canada’s plans after receiving complaints from Canadians who had read or seen Global News’ coverage of Statistics Canada’s plans. Previously, Therrien had called on Statistics Canada to be more transparent about its data collection plans.

In the meantime, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce is calling on the federal government to update public sector data protection and data collection rules for the age of Big Data.

“Public sector laws have not been updated since 1983,” Scott Smith, the senior director for intellectual property and innovation policy at The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, told Global’s Mercedes Stevenson in an interview set to air Sunday on The West Block. “What would have been fine in 1983 for files in filing cabinets is no longer relevant in the digital age.”

By contrast, new rules just updated this year for the way Canada’s private sector deals with data collections and data breaches went into effect this week.

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