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Why did Revenue Canada get away with breaching my privacy?

By PAT CARNEY


Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Dec. 12 2014, 10:11 AM EST
Last updated Friday, Dec. 12 2014, 10:15 AM EST

Pat Carney is an author and former Conservative Cabinet Minister, Senator and MP who lives on Saturna Island, B.C.

The Canada Revenue Agency apparently thinks it has a “Get Out Of Jail” card to play when it comes to breaking the law. Twice in the last six months, CRA agents have admitted to me that Canada’s tax collector agency has broken Canada’s privacy laws.

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Tax agency blames human error for giving confidential data to CBC
Nobody seems to notice.

I am one of the Canadians who received a registered letter this month from CRA Commissioner Andrew Treusch stating he “regrets to inform” me that my personal tax information was “accidentally mailed to the CBC through human error” while preparing an Access to Information Request.

Ironically, the day I received the letter was also the deadline for a CRA demand that I must pay back taxes on 2013 income for failure to supply the CRA with the very information that the CRA’s boss admits was “accidentally mailed” to the CBC.

I did not make this up. I am just trying to figure it out.

The Commissioner wrote that he is launching an internal investigation into this “privacy breach”, adding “Regrettably, the CBC chose to publicly disclose some of the names which only they had received.”

So, you see, it is all the CBC’s fault. If “it” hadn’t published the names, Canadians wouldn’t know the tax collection agency broke the law by releasing the names, address, and the private tax information of law-abiding citizens.

When I phoned the CRA call-back number in Ottawa to clarify why I am being penalized for allegedly failing to file information the CRA admitted it had – I mean, someone GAVE that specific information to the CBC – CRA agent 123 456 XYZ (not her real identity code) said the CRA had now found my missing documents “in its inventory” and agreed that releasing the information was “illegal”. They would explain it all in a letter via standard mail, she told me.

“The agency doesn’t use e-mail because of the danger of disclosure,” she explained.

I wondered why anyone would bother hacking the CRA’s files when the agency’s employees give it away to the media? But I digress.

It was the second time this year that a CRA agent admitted to performing an illegal action. In June, I received a phone call from a tax official in the Victoria tax centre threatening the equivalent of public stoning if I didn’t give the agency some highly personal information including contract terms, bank account and payment information regarding a business associate.

After establishing that I was not the party under investigation, I told the agent politely that I would be breaking the privacy laws if I disclosed the information requested by the CRA. “Aren’t you aware of that?” I asked.

“Oh yes” she said. “You are absolutely right. But if you don’t give us the information we request we can send you a legal document forcing you to turn it over to us,” she said. “Most people simply give it when we ask for it.” So much for Canada’s privacy laws.

I told her that I would release the information when I received the legal document, which I did. I never heard anything further, from the business associate or the CRA.

Asked about the “massive privacy breach” at the CRA by NDP MP Peter Julian, National Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay told the House of Commons that “this privacy breach” – she did not confess to breaking the law – was “extremely serious and completely unacceptable.” She said she has notified the Privacy Commissioner.

Ms. Findlay did not apologize to the Canadians whose confidential tax information was released to the media, where it will remain on file. She did not even say she was sorry.

What she should have done was take responsibility for an illegal act and resign.

She didn’t do that either.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Ottawa, Ontario, Pat CarneyCanad