Committee of the Whole: Privacy Commissioner, Philippe Dufresne

By: The Hon. Amina Gerba

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Kings Cove, Newfoundland

Senator Gerba: I want to pick up on what my colleague, Senator Deacon, was asking. Mr. Dufresne, Shopify was once a small start-up, a snowboard retailer founded by a new Canadian. The company has transformed itself into a showcase for entrepreneurs around the world. It grew so quickly that it was the fastest Canadian company to reach $1 billion in annual sales worldwide. Of course we would like to have more companies like this. However, these kinds of companies are using personal data, which requires extra vigilance.

Mr. Dufresne, how do you think your office will be able to protect the personal information of Canadians without undermining the prosperity of innovative Canadian companies like Shopify?

Mr. Dufresne: Thank you for the question. I think that it is important to have this balance, and it is not a situation where we should sacrifice one for the other. We have to make privacy a fundamental right and do so in such a way as to encourage innovation and the industry. I would do so by ensuring, insofar as I can comment on legislation, that the perspective and realities of the industry are considered and are part of the analysis. It needs to be possible and realistic for the company, but not to the detriment of fundamental rights. It was the same thing with human rights. I believe it is possible to do this, and I believe that the privacy commissioner can play a guiding role and be an interlocutor for the industry. The office of the commissioner has a mandate to protect and promote.

You give the example of a smaller business entering the market. The office of the commissioner could perhaps have some templates and information. It can support the industries. With Bill C-11, there was mention of the approval of codes of practice by the office of the commissioner, audits and proactive verification. I believe that it is important to have these exchanges right from the start and to create this culture of privacy, but not to the detriment of the efficiency and proper operation of businesses.

Consequently, we will have a legal system equivalent to and compatible with international and provincial regimes. At that point, we are raising the bar for both privacy protection and innovation. That is something that has always been very important to me, whether in my role at the Human Rights Commission or at the House of Commons. Fundamental principles should not be protected to the detriment of the public interest, unless that is impossible. We must make every effort in that regard, namely provide incentives to move in the right direction, engage in communication, identify issues and work together to find solutions.

Senator Gerba: Thank you.

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