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Sensitive documents end up at Toronto home in Service Canada blunder

Paul Martin’s 1995-96 austerity budget reduced spending across all sectors: payments to individuals, transfers to other levels of government and direct program spending. But the Conservatives have vowed not to make cuts in the transfer payments that make up most of federal government spending.

Ryan Remiorz/Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Robert Cishecki and his wife were stepping out of their downtown Toronto home Wednesday afternoon when they found a large brown envelope in their black mailbox.

They were puzzled. The envelope, which had their address and postal code on it but not their names, was from Service Canada and marked "internal." Inside, the couple found three bundles of sensitive documents – record of employment forms belonging to about 30 people who had applied for employment insurance. Their names, previous employer, severance pay, social insurance numbers and signatures, it was all there for the Cisheckis to see.

"I felt weird even touching the stuff because it's people's personal stuff," said Mr. Cishecki, a Toronto real estate broker. "I mean, it was just loads of it. I was in shock."

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The couple immediately headed to the nearest Service Canada office to turn in the private documents. Service Canada, which handles applications for employment insurance, passports, social insurance numbers and apprenticeship grants, is overseen by the federal Human Resources department.

One reason for the mix-up and privacy breach appears to be the addition of a postal code, handwritten in ink below a printed address label. The address on the label is for a Service Canada office on Richmond Street in London, Ont., while the postal code is for the Cisheckis' home, which has the same number on a street of the same name in Toronto.

Still, Mr. Cishecki doesn't understand how the person delivering the envelope could mistake his three-storey house, which has a cross at the top, with a government office. He wants Service Canada to explain what happened and improve how it handles personal information.

"You just don't willy-nilly go dropping a document at someone's home," he said. "Is this how people's private information is being treated these days?"

This isn't the first time a privacy breach has occurred at Service Canada. In February, Human Resources shut down Service Canada's online job bank for two weeks after a security breach that affected five employer accounts.

In an e-mail, Human Resources spokesperson Christian Plouffe said misdirected mail is rare.

"We have strict safeguards in place to ensure Canadians' personal information is secure," the spokesperson wrote. "We are currently reviewing this incident to determine how it happened and what measures to take to prevent these types of incidents."

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