The National Post
Monday, May 17, 1999

Ottawa to push through privacy bill

'Reasonable compromise': Delay could have hurt firms doing business in Europe

by David Akin, dakin@nationalpost.com Canada will have new privacy laws by the end of June, a senior government minister says.

Don Boudria, the government house leader, intends to move Bill C-54 through the House of Commons by the end of May and through the Senate by the end of June.

"My plan is to have it through the House, both report state and third reading, by the end of May", Mr. Boudria said earlier this month. "This is a bill I want to send early enough to the Senate that it'll pass there so ... we'll have royal assent by the end of June."

Advocates of strong privacy protection have expressed concern this month that the legislation would not be signed into law before Parliament breaks for the summer.

A delay could have affected the ability of Canadian companies to do business in Europe. The European Union has passed tough privacy laws that prevent multinationals from doing business there unless they or their home country have similar privacy policies.

"At the end of the day, it's going to hurt Canada trade-wise", said Mike McBane, national co-ordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition. "If we don't level up and harmonize to the European standard, nobody's going to use Canadian technology."

The legislation, formally known as Bill C-54, An Act to support and promote electronic commerce by protecting personal information that is collected, used, or disclosed in certain circumstances, is a key component of federal initiatives to make Canada an e-commerce powerhouse.

"[Industry] Minister [John] Manley staked his reputation on this electronic commerce agenda, which included Bill C-54. In fact, Bill C-54 is a key element of that whole agenda", said Philippa Lawson, an Ottawa-based lawyer for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

Ms. Lawson and representatives of other privacy groups have expressed fears in the last few weeks that industry associations, particularly those in the insurance, banking, and health care sectors, had succeeded in pressuring the government to hold off passage of the bill.

"Everyone has some concerns ... but it is actually a reasonable compromise. They've come down the middle. They're not giving privacy advocates everything they want; they're not giving business everything they want", said Ms. Lawson.

Some industry associations have suggested the legislation goes too far in limiting or restricting the ways companies can collect and use personal information for commercial purposes.

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