Gravelle questioned on privacy issues over hunting and fishing licences

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Michael Gravelle at the TBSN DebateQUEEN’S PARK – Thunder Bay Superior MPP and Minister of Natural Resources Michael Gravelle was in the cross-hairs of the opposition on Wednesday during Question Period. At issue is the new system that the Ministry of Natural Resources has implemented for fishing and hunting licences.

Laurie Scott, the PC MPP from Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock says “When the Ministry moved to a new electronic licensing system in January, the contract was awarded to a company in Tennessee”.

“When the system was introduced in January there were significant delays and operational problems with it,” continued Scott. “However, today, when you call the Ministry’s 800 number, you are greeted by a recording that says “Personal information may be stored outside of Canada and is subject to the laws of the jurisdiction where it is stored.” Ontarians are outraged at this”.

Scott wants to know how the Minister can ensure Ontario anglers and hunters that their personal and confidential information will not be accessed by the governments of the United States or Tennessee or even by a third party. “The Minister claimed that the contract which his Ministry has with the U.S. Company, Active Outdoors, ensures the protection and safeguarding of this private information,” said Scott. “According to information issued by the Treasury Board of Canada” said Scott, “under the (Patriot) Act, U.S. officials could access information about citizens of other countries, including Canada, if that information is physically within the United States or accessible electronically. “I think we potentially have a serious and major breach of privacy protection for Ontario citizens. How can the Minister claim that the personal information of citizens is secure, when it clearly is not?”

The Minister states that the system is secure.

Here is the full exchange from the Hansard:

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Ms. Laurie Scott: My question is for the Minister of Natural Resources. Minister, many MPPs are receiving a significant number of complaints from constituents regarding the Ministry of Natural Resources’ electronic licensing system. We all know that when the system was introduced on January 1, there were significant delays and operational problems with it. However, today, when you call the ministry’s 1-800 number, you are greeted by a recording that says, “Personal information may be stored outside of Canada and is subject to the laws of the jurisdiction where it is stored.” Ontarians are pretty outraged at this.

Minister, do you think it’s right that a ministry of the Ontario government would ship the confidential information of Ontario citizens to another country, where it is subject to its laws, and how can you assure Ontarians that this information will not be accessed by another government or third party for their own purposes?

Hon. Michael Gravelle: Indeed, Mr. Speaker, we are rolling out a new, modern system that will make it easier for anglers and hunters to get their licences, and we’ve been working through some of the challenges associated with that. I think it’s working in a very positive way.

In terms of the privacy issues, let me be very straightforward. Obviously, we take privacy issues very, very seriously. We’ve raised those concerns with the company and reminded them of their obligations to protect Ontarians’ privacy. We also have built extremely tough protections into the company’s contract. They cannot disclose any information without prior approval from us. And may I say, the very tough provisions of Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act absolutely apply.

I can confirm to you that indeed we are watching this very closely. It’s very important to us that we maintain the privacy provisions.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Laurie Scott: Minister, your 1-800 recording says that the personal data is collected for purposes of identification, enforcement, research, marketing and administration—that pretty much covers everything—and you claim that this personal and confidential information is being protected. So why does the ministry have this disclaimer on the 1-800 number, which again says, “Personal information may be stored outside of Canada and is subject to the laws of the jurisdiction where it is stored,” not Ontario?

Can you and will you cancel this contract and ensure that this data is retained in Ontario, or do Ontarians have to live with this bad decision?

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Minister of Natural Resources.

Hon. Michael Gravelle: Obviously, there was a company that was the successful proponent in a competitive procurement process as we moved forward on this new automated licensing system. Again, we take the privacy provisions extremely seriously, which is why we have built very those tough provisions into the company’s contract. It’s also why the very, very clear and tough provisions of Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act apply.

We are taking this very, very seriously, building in a very strong contract agreement with the company that was the successful proponent of this as we move towards the system that will actually make it easier for people to access hunting and fishing licences across the province.