Committee of the Whole: Privacy Commissioner, Philippe Dufresne

By: The Hon. Diane Bellemare

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Ottawa River, Gatineau and the Library of the Canadian Parliament, Ottawa

Senator Bellemare: Thank you for being with us, Mr. Dufresne. I know you have extensive experience with Canadian parliamentarians.

My question deals with a hypothetical situation. Suppose you were appointed to the position you are seeking, and suppose the government currently in office supported or introduced a bill that got a lot of criticism from individuals and organizations for failing to adequately protect privacy. What would you do if the committee tasked with studying such bills invited you to testify and participate in that study?

Mr. Dufresne: Thank you, senator. Certainly, in my role as Privacy Commissioner, I will always give my advice to any parliamentary committee that requests it. I believe that this is one of the important aspects of the Privacy Commissioner’s role.

Thanks to my experience as Law Clerk of the House, I have had numerous opportunities to appear before parliamentary committees and provide advice in various legal areas. I will continue to do so as Privacy Commissioner with a view to providing the best and most balanced advice possible. That advice will be consistent with the values that I will convey, namely, recognizing privacy rights as fundamental rights, but also understanding the public interest and the need for laws that are practical, realistic and that can build public confidence.

In a situation where there was opposition, I would ask myself whether my office and I should consider that opposition justified. Obviously, I would listen to the differing views and provide the best advice I can, while being mindful of the weight that the Privacy Commissioner’s representations can carry. I would do so with the responsibility that comes with that influence.

Senator Bellemare: I have a supplementary question.

In this scenario, would you publicly comment on a bill, on your own initiative, if you felt it violated the privacy of Canadians?

Mr. Dufresne: I think that’s a situation that has to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. However, I will say that on the face of it, the mandate of the Privacy Commissioner is to protect and promote the privacy of Canadians. I think that’s a very important consideration. Are there be any circumstances that would make it inappropriate to do so proactively? My first impression is that an officer of Parliament has a duty to comment on such matters, whether in an annual or special report. I would like to think that my office is and will remain a centre of excellence on privacy and that we would be invited to comment on privacy bills.

Senator Bellemare: Thank you, Mr. Dufresne.

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