Statistics Canada kept Trudeau cabinet, privacy commissioner in the dark about controversial bank data harvest plan – National

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Navdeep Bains, the Trudeau cabinet minister responsible for Statistics Canada, said he first learned of the federal agency’s controversial plan to harvest the financial transaction data of potentially millions of Canadians as a result of media reports and not, as the law requires, in a written notification from the country’s chief statistician.

Bains’ revelation, made Monday at a House of Commons committee, follows a similar revelation earlier this month made by Canada’s privacy commissioner testifying at a Senate committee that, he, too, did not learn of the scope of the StatCan project until reading about it.

Global News first reported on the project on Oct. 26, and at the time, quoted StatCan documents that said the privacy commissioner had been fully briefed on the scope and nature of the project and also said that StatCan was also following all applicable laws, one of which includes a requirement that Statistics Canada notify in writing the responsible minister — Bains, in this case — when a project such as the one StatCan hopes to proceed with was being proposed.

Bains testified Monday that no such notification was provided.


READ MORE:
Statistics Canada failed to disclose key info about project to harvest bank data

Nonetheless, Bains, whose title is Minister for Innovation, Science and Economic Development, told a Commons committee Monday he has full faith in chief statistician Anil Arora and the agency he heads, Statistics Canada.

“I think that Statistics Canada is a world-class statistical agency. It has a lot of respect internationally and within Canada as well … and I have a lot of confidence in the chief statistician,” Bains said.

Arora was appointed by the Trudeau government in 2017.

For more than a year, StatCan has been developing a project in which it would randomly select 500,000 Canadian households, pass information such as social insurance numbers, names, and addresses of members of those households to the country’s nine largest financial institutions, and then require those financial institutions to transfer to Statistics Canada the daily detailed financial transaction data of any of its customers on the list of those 500,000 randomly selected Canadian households.

Statistics Canada has explained that upon receiving that data from the country’s banks and credit card companies, it would “anonymize” the data, stripping personal identifiers after aggregating the financial data with demographic data and use this method to replace a questionnaire it now uses to gather information about the household spending habits of Canadians.


READ MORE:
EXCLUSIVE: Stats Canada requesting banking information of 500,000 Canadians without their knowledge

In correspondence obtained by Global News directed to the banks, Statistics Canada claims the legal authority to require banks and credit card companies to turn over this data with neither the consent nor the knowledge of the affected customers of the financial institutions.

“Canadians continue to express their absolute rejection of the Liberal plan to secretly force banks and other financial institutions to release their personal financial information of their clients without their consent,” Conservative MP Dan Albas said Monday in the House of Commons.

Bains, on Monday, said he now understands that affected Canadians would be informed if their data was collected.

Bains and other government officials describe the plan as a “pilot project” that has yet to collect any data in this way.

Arora has testified before both a Commons committee and a Senate committee that the project to harvest financial transaction data would not proceed until the Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien has signed off on the plan.

And while Therrien said he appreciates Arora’s invitation to review StatCan’s plans, he has opened an investigation into the federal agency’s activities after several Canadians complained.

“Your government has not done a very good job of managing Statistics Canada,” Conservative MP Michael Chong told Bains at Monday’s committee meeting. “This is data that is far more intrusive than anything we’ve seen before at a level that would make [Google subsidiary] Alphabet and Amazon blush.”

In the meantime, Conservative MPs had new questions Monday for both Bains and Statistics Canada about StatCan’s decades-old practice of selling custom slices of data it holds to the private sector and how that business might be affected by this new plan to harvest bank data.

“This data is going to be used by some of the largest companies in the world in order to market their services to Canadians and your government proposes to use the coercive power of the state … to get this data,” Chong said to Bains at Monday’s committee meeting. “I think it’s big-time overreach on part of your government.”


READ MORE:
Privacy Commissioner of Canada launches investigation into StatCan over controversial data project

In 2017, StatCan posted $113 million of what it calls “re-spendable” revenue and employed 400 full-time data collectors for this custom data business.

StatCan saw this custom data business shrink by 25 per cent between 2012 and 2015 after the previous Harper government made the mandatory long-form census optional. Many social scientists said that decision made the census data next to useless. Many of Statistics Canada business customers appear to have thought so as well as StatCan’s revenue earned by selling its data dropped from $114 million in 2012 to $86 million in 2015.

But when the Trudeau Liberals made the long-form census mandatory again in 2015, gave Statistics Canada new independence, and provided it with new powers to create projects like the planned bank transaction data collection project, it appears to have made StatCan more valuable in the eyes of business users. StatCan’s sales to the private sector quickly blossomed by 32 per cent from 2015 to 2017.

Albas said he believes StatCan’s revenue from this custom data service will “skyrocket” when business users learn it includes data StatCan has forced from Canada’s banks and credit card companies.

“This information is highly valued by large multinationals who want to sell more of their products,” Albas said.

At no time does Statistics Canada sell or provide, under any circumstance, any personal information it holds. Instead, it packages up data about groups of Canadians, most often sorted by their “postal code walk,” the first three letters of someone’s postal code, so that businesses or marketing organizations might know where, for example, families with young children or Punjabi speakers live.

Albas said the proposed project to collect bank transaction data would make StatCan’s data even more valuable to business users — at the expense, he said, of the privacy rights of Canadians.

  • With files from Andrew Russell

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Statistics Canada failed to disclose key info about project to harvest bank data – National

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Statistics Canada failed to disclose key details to Canada’s privacy commissioner about a controversial plan to harvest detailed financial transaction data about 500,000 Canadian households, a failing that commissioner Daniel Therrien said contributed to the agency falling “way short” of its stated objective of being transparent.

Testifying before a Senate committee on Parliament Hill on Thursday, Therrien said that although Statistics Canada consulted his office in a general way about a plan to force the country’s nine largest financial institutions to turn over detailed customer financial transactions, it never informed his office that 500,000 households would be involved.

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


He said the size of the project — the number of households whose data will be retrieved — “is a crucial fact” and that “proportionality is very important. “

Therrien launched a formal investigation of the project after 52 Canadians filed complaints after learning about the project, first reported by Global News on Oct. 26.

Global News is publishing for the first time here the kinds of detailed data that Statistics Canada told Canada’s banks and credit card companies it was going to compel them to turn over.

The document obtained by Global News is called “Schedule 5” and it was attached to correspondence sent to the banks explaining their legal obligation to disclose this data.

READ: ‘Schedule 5’ lists the detailed data Statistics Canada wants from Canada’s banks

Chief Statistician Anil Arora, who testified before Therrien on Thursday morning, described that plan as “a pilot project’ and said no data had been transferred by the banks to Statistics Canada.

Arora said it was his agency’s expectations that the customers of the country’s nine largest banks and credit card companies would be notified about the project before it was implemented. But while customers would be notified, there would be no chance for any bank customer to withhold consent of the use of that data.

READ MORE: Canadians have little ability to determine if StatCan has their personal banking info

The federal Conservatives and NDP have blasted the Liberal government for allowing the agency to create what they described as “Big Brother on steroids” and called for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to halt the project.

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

Trudeau has said the initiative is required to create better public policy and accused the Conservatives of a “war on data and science.”

By law, Statistics Canada has the power to compel any organization to hand over any kind of data, including detailed personal data. But federal law also puts a burden on Statistics Canada to protect the confidentiality and privacy of any data it obtains.

It is also forbidden by law from sharing the data with anyone. No other government department, no court, nor any investigative agency like the RCMP can get personal data obtained by Statistics Canada.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Heavy snow delays harvest after tough season for Alberta farmers

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Farmers in Alberta are racing against the clock to harvest their crops after heavy rain and snow in September left fields too wet to work.

The wet weather delays followed a dry summer that already had farmers bracing for a hit to their yields.

Kevin Bender, who farms west of Red Deer and is the chair of the Alberta Wheat Commission, said his farm has been shut down for about three weeks, with only about a quarter of his acreage harvested.

« Sept. 9 is the last time we’d combined, » Bender said.

« We had three or four snowstorms and cold weather … but we’ve been able to get back on canola last Sunday night, and trying to race the clock and get as much done as we can until the next precipitation hits us. »

Crop insurance top of mind

Farmer Ian Chitwood of Airdrie said some parts of his property got upward of 30 centimetres of snow.

« We have not combined a single bushel yet this year, » he told Alberta@Noon on Friday.

« Insurance is on top of a lot of producer’s minds right now. Every day we’re losing daylight, we’re losing some heat, it could get into where producers are starting to claim partial crop losses, I think panic is starting to set in right now. »

Provincially, about 40 per cent of crops have been harvested so far, according to the latest crop report. That’s about 40 per cent behind when compared to the five-year average, with some regions as much as 58 per cent behind.

Can’t see the graph below? Click here.

And, the wet conditions mean crop quality was on the decline and expected to drop even further, the report said, with malt barley, oats and canola being graded below average.

John Guelly, the vice-chair of Alberta Canola who farms canola, malt barley and wheat in the Westlock area, said he’s experienced tough conditions in 2016 and 2017 as well but he expects this year to be even worse.

« It could be a lot of crop out over the winter unless we’re able to get some decent weather. And a little bit of precipitation right now really hurts because the days are so short, » Guelly said.

Bender said he’ll be hoping for warm dry weather and wind.

« It’ll be really tough, » he said.

« At this point as long as there’s snow on top of the canopy, on top of the grain, we can’t even go out and try it. »

With files from Andrew Brown, Alberta@Noon.

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