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Former governors-general Michaëlle Jean, right, and Adrienne Clarkson. Since 2005, Ms. Clarkson has billed taxpayers $1.1-million in expenses.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

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Banking on data

So Statistics Canada wants to force our financial institutions to disclose the detailed financial transactions of 500,000 Canadians (Privacy Watchdog Probes Statscan Move To Collect Personal Banking Data – Nov. 1).

In case any Canadians are fostering even remote illusions that our federal public service is anything other than a modern day reincarnation of the Keystone Kops when it comes to dealing with data privacy and technology in general, I offer three chilling words: Phoenix payroll system.

Paul Bond, Toronto


Here’s an analogy for what Statscan plans to do with 500,000 Canadians’ personal data.

Say the government wants a better experience of directing traffic on its numerous highways. A logistical challenge of the highest order, harvesting traffic data patterns in real time is important for orderly movement of traffic, improving productivity, even saving lives. Certainly a worthwhile cause.

Existing knowledge of rush hours, seasonality, holidays gets them only so far. Statscan then decides that everyone who wants to take their car out must give full access to their detailed travel plans. Information must be made available in real time during your driving day as well, in order to help them monitor effectively.

While they are at it, they also need your name, age, social insurance number and bank balance. If, during the day, you break the speed limit or get into an accident, they say they will look the other way, even if you were at fault. They have your name and personal details in their computers, something they demanded as critical information for directing vehicular traffic, but they promise never to look at it.

Just ridiculous! Conservatives under Stephen Harper clipped Statscan’s wings. Liberals gave them their mojo back, and now it appears to be payback time.

Amar Kumar, Burlington, Ont.


On Tuesday we learned that Statistics Canada had already successfully demanded that a private company, a credit bureau, hand over the credit ratings, including personal identifiers, of millions of Canadians without first seeking their consent.

This breach of people’s trust by a government agency severely undermines public confidence that Ottawa respects Canadians’ right to privacy. Now, Statistics Canada also plans to compel banks to hand over personal banking records, including purchases, balances owing, and payment histories.

While the agency’s objectives might be legitimate, the ends definitely don’t justify the means.

If a company attempted to do what Statistics Canada has done, it would violate the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), Canada’s privacy law that applies to businesses. PIPEDA is effective because it is principles- and objectives-based, and technology-neutral. In contrast, the Privacy Act (privacy laws that the government and political parties must abide by) enshrines a double standard for the government that permits abuses like this.

Until Parliament amends the law, the government is definitely not practising what it preaches. Ottawa needs to lead by example in how it treats sensitive personal information.

Transparency in the collection, use and disclosure of personal data, scrubbing of sensitive personal information, and ensuring informed consent are good principles that should apply to both public and private sectors.

Perrin Beatty, CEO, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

E-spying’s toolkit

Re China Telecom Diverted Online Traffic, Report Says (Oct. 31): Diverting internet traffic is not new. The technique was described in one of the Snowden documents (Network Shaping 101). It is one of the tools in the repertoire of the national security agency in the United States, and other Western security agencies.

The technique relies on a weakness of the method referred to as border gateway protocol (BGP), used to route traffic through the internet. Improvements to BGP have been proposed for years, but uptake has been slow.

Political solutions are advanced ahead of technical solutions. Perhaps that is because a technical solution to Chinese diversion activities would also make it more difficult for Western security agencies, including Canada’s Communications Security Establishment, to carry out the mass surveillance to which they have arguably become addicted.

Jack Dodds, Aurora, Ont.

Pay to (ex) G-Gs

Re Royal Treatment (Nov. 1): Your editorial points out that “Ex-governors general are entitled to bill the government for office expenses ad infinitum, with no public disclosure of what the money is buying.”

You rightly note that the Queen, though she spent $2-million on doors for Windsor Castle, was at least upfront about it. If she can be accountable, then Canada’s ex-governors-general should be, too.

For that matter, why should persons representing the Queen be able to “bill the government” for a single dime after they have stepped down?

It’s bad enough that this country feels that it needs to have a G-G – and provincial versions in the form of lieutenant-governors – in the first place, but to continue to reimburse them for office expenses indefinitely outrageously compounds the affront.

Geoff Rytell, Toronto


I didn’t even know that “service as the governor-general can keep a person busy with public engagements after they leave office.” I thought that after leaving office a person can do whatever the heck he or she wants – go fishing, fly a kite, watch TV … whatever.

It seems that whatever that choice will be is much more desirable when the taxpayer augments the continuing party. Adrienne Clarkson appears to be, as the saying goes, living like a Queen.

Cassandra King, Clementsport, N.S.

High diving finances?

Re Calgary Olympic Bid Barely Survives Council Vote, But Funding Issues Remain (Nov. 1): There is inspiration for a wonderful farce in the financing of Olympic Games.

Here we have three levels of government, national, provincial and municipal, none of which have money, indeed are variously possessed of magnificent debts and deficits, providing the prospect of billions “on the table” for this international junket. This is so deplorable it is laughable.

The Olympic Games represent much that is worst in the contemporary world, so it is commendable that many Calgarians are realistic in their opposition. In the meantime, how about instituting a gold medal for high diving financial stupidity to any city “awarded” the Games?

Ian Guthrie, Ottawa


Emma May, who is trying to bring the Winter Games to Calgary in 2026, is quoted as saying: “I thought the nuisances were being finalized.”

At one time or another, I think we’ve all had that hope.

Jo Meingarten, Toronto

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