Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Find another privacy commissioner

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The Harper government should withdraw its nomination of Daniel Therrien for privacy commissioner. He's not just a bad and inappropriate choice, his selection is downright confusing.

As an assistant deputy attorney general for public safety, defence and immigration at the Justice Department since 2005, Mr. Therrien has been involved at the highest level in the most sensitive files of government, including privacy issues. He has spent his entire 33-year career in the federal government as a senior general counsel and director of numerous departments.

As such, he could be subject to solicitor-client privilege on confidential files, a predicament that could easily put him in a conflict of interest if he is confirmed as privacy commissioner.

Mr. Therrien is a highly respected and qualified public servant. There is no reason to doubt his integrity or that he would attempt to perform his new role to the highest ethical standards.

That's just not good enough, however. The government is asking Canadians to trust it, but once again the Prime Minister's Office is demonstrating its profound indifference to questions of perception and probity.

The need to balance privacy rights against the demands of security in the Internet age has become one of the most complex challenges for governments today, as well as the most controversial.

Ordinary Canadians and privacy experts alike are opposed to the government's attempts to provide a broad legislative framework for snooping into the lives of citizens. A legitimate case can be made, however, in favour of helping police and security agencies to protect Canadians and detect crime with new powers of investigation.

Parliament is currently considering a number of pieces of legislation that intrude on privacy, including a cyberbullying law to protect against bullying and the distribution of intimate photographs, but it would also enhance police powers to intercept digital and electronic communications.

Mr. Therrien says the bill should be separated into two parts and Canadians should be given more information on why police and security agencies need enhanced powers.

He's right on both points, but unfortunately it does not solve the fundamental obstacles that disqualify him for what has arguably become one of the most important jobs in public service, namely safeguarding the privacy of Canadians.

Among other things, the privacy commissioner is responsible for publicly reporting on the personal information-handling practices of public- and private-sector organizations.

There are many qualified candidates across Canada, including interim commissioner Chantal Bernier, who did not make the final two-person list.

The government has a history of quarrelling with its statutory officers and, more recently, the Supreme Court, too. It's a trend that merely fuels suspicion Mr. Therrien was selected because of his understanding of government rather than his penchant for the role of watchdog.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 5, 2014 A12

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