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British Columbia BC Liberals allege NDP shared supporter lists without consent

A sessional attendant walks by Legislative Assembly during question period at the Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on April 27, 2016.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

The British Columbia Liberal Party has filed a complaint with the province's privacy commissioner, alleging the New Democratic Party breached protection laws by sharing its supporter list with "politically friendly" groups.

A spokeswoman at B.C.'s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner confirmed Friday it received a request for an investigation from the B.C. Liberals, but Privacy Commissioner Drew McArthur was not immediately available for comment. The complaint comes just days before a provincial election will be called.

A letter to McArthur signed by B.C. Liberal Party president Sharon White called for an immediate investigation into alleged breaches of B.C.'s Personal Information Protection Act by the NDP.

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"We have obtained documentation concerning the activities of the B.C. NDP, Strategic Communications, the municipal political parties, Vision Vancouver, Coalition of Progressive Electors and the Surrey Civic Coalition, and B.C. NDP officials in Saanich, B.C., which show serious and ongoing breaches of the Personal Information Protection Act."

Glen Sanford, the B.C. NDP's deputy director, said he welcomed any investigation by the privacy commissioner.

"I have no concerns at all," he said.

The local parties mentioned in the Liberal's letter represent the centre-left on the political spectrum. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, a former New Democrat member of the legislature, ran under the Vision banner in the last municipal election.

Vision's executive director Stepan Vdovine declined comment.

The Liberals allege in the letter "there are clearly reasonable grounds to believe that a number of political organizations in B.C. have not complied with the Personal Information Protection Act."

The complaint to the privacy commissioner includes documents of three agreements dated Oct. 5, 2005 between the NDP and Vision Vancouver, COPE and Surrey Civic Coalition.

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The letter also says the breaches are as recent as November 2014 when the list was used during municipal elections in Saanich, B.C.

"These agreements set out a secret arrangement whereby the BC NDP would share lists regarding its supporters with these politically friendly municipal parties to help them identify supporters and assist them to elect their candidates in municipal elections," stated the letter.

The Personal Information Protection Act describes how private-sector organizations must handle the personal information of their employees and the public and includes rules about collecting, using and disclosing personal information.

The Act balances two principles, an individual's right to protect his or her personal information and an organization's need to collect, use or disclose personal information for reasonable purposes.

The Liberals allege the people on the NDP supporter lists did not consent that their personal information, including addresses, home telephone numbers and political affiliation, would be shared with a third party.

"Giving or selling personal information collected by a political to third parties such as other political parties cannot be done without the express written acknowledgment to do so from persons from whom the information is collected," said the Liberal letter.

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The letter called on the privacy commissioner to "ensure the public in B.C. is protected from the flagrant breaches by the British Columbia NDP, its political consultants and other municipal political parties."

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