Canada officially has a new privacy commissioner, after the House of Commons approved the government’s nomination of Daniel Therrien.
In a vote Thursday morning, Conservative and Liberal MPs, as well as Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, voted in favour of Mr. Therrien’s nomination, which passed by a vote of 153 to 75. NDP and Bloc Quebecois MPs opposed it.
The Commissioner is a Parliamentary watchdog for Canadians’ privacy rights, tasked with investigating complaints of breaches and, in some cases, sparring with government or companies over how they handle private information.
Mr. Therrien was nominated eight days earlier, and had already been swiftly approved by a House of Commons committee and the Senate. The Official Opposition dismissed the committee appearance as a “sham,” as it lasted less than an hour, but Mr. Therrien won over the Senate in a two-hour appearance Tuesday.
“I was impressed. I thought he answered the questions clearly and thoughtfully, and I support the nomination,” Senate Liberal Leader James Cowan told The Globe.
Mr. Cowan had doubts about the appointment – namely that Mr. Therrien, a career government lawyer, had spent his life developing security programs that he’d now be tasked with critiquing.
“When I read his CV, it seemed he’d worked in government, worked in public service and been really focused on the side of security agencies and advising government on those kinds of issues. That raised concerns in my mind about whether he could really be an advocate for privacy rights,” Mr. Cowan said. But in his Senate appearance, Mr. Therrien “ knew what the issues were, he knew what the concerns were. I thought he addressed and explained clearly how he would deal with any perceived conflict of interest and how he would put privacy concerns first,” Mr. Cowan said.
Canada’s last privacy commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, retired last year. Interim commissioner Chantal Bernier’s term ended Monday. Mr. Therrien is now appointed to a seven-year term. He has little time to settle in – he’s due to testify on June 10 to a committee considering Bill C-13, a cyberbullying law that includes broad new police powers. Mr. Therrien has already said the bill should be split in two, so as to deal with cyberbullying and police powers in separate laws. The government has so far dismissed that suggestion, one echoed by several other watchdogs and groups.