The Yukon government has begun a review of its Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which the territory’s information and privacy commissioner says is sorely needed.
The legislation hasn’t been fully reviewed since it was introduced in 1996.
Diane McLeod-McKay, the information and privacy commissioner, said the act is “in desperate need of improvement,” calling the current legislation “antiquated.”
That’s partly because the act was created “when the world was largely paper-based,” she explained.
In the digital age, she said, personal information can be shared much more easily between government departments. But that raises privacy concerns that the current ATIPP Act may not address.
McLeod-McKay gave the example of children with disabilities who might be involved with several government departments, such as health, education and justice. She said the sharing of information in those circumstances needs to be more tightly controlled.
In October 2015, McLeod-McKay released a series of recommended changes to the ATIPP Act, in anticipation of the review. They include a number of privacy-protection measures. For instance, she recommended that Yukon public bodies should submit privacy impact assessments to her office for any proposed systems or projects that involve personal information.
McLeod-McKay also made a number of recommendations that would give the commissioner new power to conduct investigations when she suspects the government is not complying with the ATIPP Act.
Currently, she said, her ability to investigate is “very limited,” as she has to wait for someone to make a complaint before stepping in.
She also wants the power to send an investigation to an adjudicator when she finds the government has contravened the act.
McLeod-McKay also wants all Yukon municipalities to be included in the act, which they currently are not. She said that means local governments don’t have a responsibility to protect personal information, unlike many municipalities in the rest of Canada.
“It’s a gap. This was discussed many years ago,” she said. “Now we’re at 2015, and I hear no discussion about municipalities. Nothing is happening or has happened.”
Another important recommendation is that a public interest override provision be included in the revised act.
Currently, the law exempts some information from being released to the public when it’s requested. But an override provision could allow some of that information to be released if it’s found to be in the public interest.
McLeod-McKay suggested that an override could have helped with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s attempt to identify students who died or went missing while attending residential schools. Ordinarily, the Yukon’s Vital Statistics Act prevents a cause of death from being made public until 100 years after a person’s death.
She said many other Canadian jurisdictions already have override provisions.
McLeod-McKay would also like to see the role of the ATIPP Act’s records manager eliminated. The records manager exists as a sort of middleman between government departments and individuals looking for information. She believes people looking for personal information should be able to go directly to the relevant department.
“In every other jurisdiction, there is no records manager. People shouldn’t have to go through these hoops.”
McLeod-McKay said she hopes the government will take many of her recommendations into consideration, and she’d like to be involved in the review process.
Alicia Debreceni, spokesperson for the Department of Highways and Public Works that oversees the ATIPP Act, said the review will incorporate recommendations from the commissioner and the Yukon public.
“This review ensures that this important piece of legislation is kept up to date for Yukoners,” she said. “It’s also an opportunity that we can continue to modernize this legislation and bring it in line with similar laws across Canada.”
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