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Election signs for federal candidates are seen in a Toronto riding, on Oct. 21, 2019.

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The Competition Bureau is investigating the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats to determine whether the political parties are violating Canadian laws against deceptive marketing.

The investigation is in response to a complaint filed by the Centre for Digital Rights, a group created by Canadian entrepreneur Jim Balsillie, which called on five separate government watchdogs to investigate federal parties over privacy concerns.

The Competition Bureau is the first of the five to confirm an investigation.

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Josephine Palumbo, deputy commissioner of competition responsible for the cartels and deceptive marketing practices branch, confirmed the investigation in an Oct. 25 letter that the Centre for Digital Rights released Wednesday.

“I wish to inform you that the Commissioner of Competition has commenced an inquiry … into the alleged reviewable conduct under Part VII.I of the Act, of the Liberal Party of Canada, the Conservative Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party of Canada,” Ms. Palumbo wrote.

That section of the Competition Act relates to deceptive marketing practices.

The complaint was originally sent on Aug. 26 on behalf of several individuals.

The nature of the complaint is an allegation that the privacy policies of political parties give Canadians the false impression that their personal information will be protected and not used or shared in unauthorized ways.

“What they say is not what they do,” said Bill Hearn, a lawyer acting on behalf of the centre and the Canadians involved in the complaints.

A recent update of the Canada Elections Act requires political parties to have a privacy policy in place, but the law does not outline the elements such a policy should include.

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In addition to the Competition Bureau, the centre has filed requests for investigations with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the Commissioner of Canada Elections, the federal Privacy Commissioner and the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia. The four have all told the centre they are reviewing the complaints.

The Privacy Commissioner has said political parties are exempt from federal privacy laws and has called on the government to remove that exemption.

Mr. Hearn said he questions whether parties are truly exempt and is calling on the government to clearly include political parties in a promised update of privacy legislation.

The government has pledged to introduce legislation that would bring Canada more in line with recent updates in the European Union and other jurisdictions. However, Ottawa has not committed to including political parties in the new legislation.

In its complaint to the Competition Bureau, the centre said parties compile detailed databases on individual voters without their consent.

“In contrast to their respective privacy policies, each of the [federal political parties] engage in the collection of personal information of Canadian voters from a variety of sources including publicly posted data (such as online blogs) and social media data as well as publicly available socio-economic data,” the complaint states. “This includes the creation of voter profiles for the purpose of deceptively delivering targeted advertising designed to influence the voting behaviour of the Canadian public.”

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