Canadian Privacy Bill Stalled for Second Time in Six Months

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OTTAWA -- Passage of Bill C-6, the federal government's personal privacy legislation -- much lauded by direct marketers -- has been stalled for a second time in six months.


Lobbyists from the healthcare sector who appeared before the Senate and called for stronger protection for personal health information sparked the postponement. In June, the legislation, known then as Bill C-54, was delayed when it failed to pass a third reading in the House of Commons before parliamentarians broke for summer recess.


This led to speculation that Industry Minister John Manley had lost interest in the legislation. But it was reintroduced to the House of Commons in the fall, as Bill C-6, and gained passage in late October. Subsequently, it moved to the Senate.


In its appearance before the Senate committee examining the bill, the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, the Canadian Medical Association took issue with the bill's promise to protect personal information.


The association argued the bill, known officially as the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, didn't go far enough and cited a national opinion poll to demonstrate the high value Canadians place on health information privacy.


In the poll, only financial-information concerns ranked higher as a privacy issue than heath-information concerns.


Dr. Peter Vaughan, secretary general of the Canadian Medical Association, asked the committee to amend the bill before passing it.


"[Our] chief concern with Bill C-6 is the lack of adequate protection of personal health information," he said. "The research shows that the issue of consent and subsequent use of personal health information is of fundamental importance to Canadians."


Bill C-6 is considered the centerpiece of the ruling Liberal party's plan to propel Canada to a leadership position in Internet commerce.


Similar to the European Union's Data Privacy Directive, it is intended to establish a clear regulatory policy on how companies can collect and use personal data, thereby creating a stable legal framework for e-commerce.


During debate on the bill, Senator Lowell Murray took issue with the Department of Industry's characterization of the bill an integral part of the government's legislative framework.


"They glossed over the fact that the privacy provisions of this bill go well beyond e-commerce," said Murray. "They apply to personal information collected in the course of commercial activity by any means, electronic or otherwise."


He argued that part one of the Bill C-6, entitled Protection of Personal Information in the Private Sector, comprises a bill in its own right and that the legislation ought, in fact, to be divided into two separate bills.


John Gustavson, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Marketing Association, called the bill's delay disappointing, but says he remains optimistic it will pass by the spring.


Bill C-6 is based on the Canadian Standards Association's Model Code for the Protection of Personal Information, a set of voluntary guidelines recognized three years ago by government, business and consumer groups as a national standard.


One of the stipulations of Bill C-6 is that provincial government will have to introduce similar legislation with three years of the date the bill is passed.


Gustavson says Bill C-6 is an important piece of legislation because it would officially "prohibit the collection of personal information, without permission, that can identify an individual."


But he points out that the Canadian Marketing Association's code of ethics already places similar restrictions on its membership, which includes the country's major financial institutions, publishers and catalogers.
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