Canada Privacy

Senate recommends political parties be subject to privacy law, and that controversial exemption be dropped from budget bill

Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee emphasized electoral law amendments should be introduced in a separate bill to allow for thorough study.

JUNE 2 2023 — The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee has backed calls by thousands of Canadians for federal political parties to be made subject to privacy laws. In a report published earlier today, the Committee called for the establishment of a “national, uniform regime” governing political parties’ use of private data, while highlighting that the government’s budget bill proposal in Division 39 of Bill C-47 “does not actually establish any such regime.”

Noting that the lack of privacy safeguards “can impact Canadians’ trust in federal political parties and, by extension, the electoral process in general,” the Committee emphasized that the matter should be introduced as separate legislation to allow for thorough study and consultation, stating that including it in a budget bill “does a disservice to the legislative process.” 

“Today’s report validates the concerns of over 7,500 Canadians who have spoken up against the government’s underhanded attempt to exempt political parties from our privacy laws,” stated Matt Hatfield, campaigns director at OpenMedia. OpenMedia recently submitted a parliamentary brief calling for Division 39 to be dropped from the budget bill.

“There are few things more privacy-sensitive than the data on individual voters collected and held by political parties,” continued Hatfield. “But right now, your local corner store or barber shop is held to higher data privacy standards than political parties. That situation is untenable and unacceptable: MPs need to heed the Senate’s recommendation, and make political parties play by the same rules as everybody else.”

Today’s Senate Committee report followed expert testimony from Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault and federal Privacy Commissioner Philippe Dufresne, neither of whom had been consulted by the government prior to the measure being introduced. Bill C-47 is being debated by the House of Commons today and early next week.

Professor Colin Bennett, who has extensively studied how political parties handle sensitive data, has described Division 39 as “wholly inadequate and cynical,” noting that political parties are regulated under privacy laws in almost every other democratic country in the world.

If passed, Division 39 would:

  • Permanently exclude political parties from Canadian privacy laws
  • Risk stripping away the enhanced privacy protections enjoyed by residents of British Columbia, where federal political parties are subject to BC’s Personal Information Protection Act, the subject of an ongoing court case; 
  • Prevent other provinces from implementing similar or stronger privacy protections in their jurisdictions.

As Parliament continues to debate Bill C-47, Canadians can continue to add their voices to OpenMedia’s campaign.

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