Canada’s privacy czar probing complaints about federal public service vaccination requirement

October 24, 2021
Canada's privacy czar probing complaints about federal public service vaccination requirement
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The federal privacy watchdog is investigating “a number of complaints” about the government’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement for public servants.

Privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien said in a statement Friday that his office was looking into the concerns, but provided no details given they are now the subject of “ongoing investigations.”

The Liberal government announced earlier this month that core public servants must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face suspension without pay as early as Nov. 15.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced this week that provinces and the federal government have agreed on a new national vaccine passport for domestic and international travel.

WATCH | Canadians will be able to use provincial vaccine certificates for international travel:

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that as more provinces and territories require the use of vaccine certificates, he is ‘confident’ that foreign governments will accept these documents from Canadians travelling internationally. 2:01

Therrien said his office has had “constructive discussions” with federal officials over the last few months on the standardized proof-of-vaccination for travel initiative.

“That being said, in recent days, our office has received a number of complaints related to the government’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement for federal public servants. We will therefore be investigating the application of privacy principles in this context.”

Vaccine initiatives require ‘careful consideration’: Therrien

Therrien said that although the initiatives are distinct, the principles applicable to vaccine passports for travel and to the vaccination requirement for federal public servants are the same.

“It would therefore be inappropriate to offer conclusions until we have completed our investigations,” he said.

Therrien said Friday that vaccine passports might offer significant public health benefits but they remain exceptional measures.

“They should only be imposed after careful consideration of privacy and other human rights principles.”

In May, Therrien and his counterparts across the country said respect for laws and principles governing personal information must guide introduction of proof-of-vaccination certificates that could smooth the transition to post-pandemic life.

In the joint statement, federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners said that in order to be justified, vaccine passports must be necessary to achieve their intended public health purposes, and their effectiveness in meeting the goals should be evidence-based.

The commissioners also said privacy risks associated with the initiative must be proportionate to the purpose, the personal information collection limited, the data used only for the intended goal, and the program must have an expiration date.

“The government has provided us with information relevant to each of these criteria,” Therrien said Friday.

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