C-51 will strain my office's resources: privacy commissioner

Daniel Therrien, the nominee to be Canada's Privacy Commissioner, speaks to journalists before testifying at the Commons access to information, privacy and ethics committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 3, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie (CANADA - Tags: POLITICS)

Canada’s privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien says the government’s proposed anti-terror bill C-51 will stretch the resources of his office and limit its ability fulfill the entire scope of its duties.

“Given the breadth of information-sharing contemplated by this bill, and my other responsibilities under the privacy act, and PIPEDA, the private sector privacy legislation, my office’s review may not be fully effective with its current level of resources,” Therrien told the Senate committee on national defence Thursday afternoon.

“We will try to adjust our work priorities as much as possible, but directing my review powers towards activities related to Bill C-51 will come at the expense of reviewing other important programs and initiatives, both in the public and private sector.”

Among many provisions, Bill C-51 allows for information-sharing across 17 federal institutions, with the intention of detecting and identifying terrorist threats to national security. Privacy advocates have warned that with this provision, the bill doesn’t find the right balance between Canadians’ privacy rights and the country’s security.

Therrien echoed those warnings Thursday and said the bill isn’t balanced and proportional in that regard.

Therrien, who was reportedly blocked by Conservative members from appearing before the House of Commons committee that wrapped up studying the bill weeks ago, said enhanced information through C-51 is a reasonable objective.

He does have some conerns, though primarily with the breadth and parameters of information-sharing measures.

Therrien told senators that his office is tasked with reviewing the activities of around 100 federal departments. Choosing which branches of government to review — because there isn’t time or resources for them all — is based on a risk assessment of their performance, he said.

“I fear very much that something will give in this risk management process.”

Therrien also raised concerns with the issue of records retention, “and how long information under Bill C-51 will be kept by receiving institutions,” he said.

“We have heard that such details may be prescribed in regulations. In my view this is a weak safeguard as nothing would preclude the adoption of very long periods of retention.”

Criticism of C-51 was swift and wide-ranging since the bill was introduced in the House of Commons early on in 2015. The Conservatives amended the bill with a few minor changes, but no amendments put forward by opposition parties were adopted at committee.