Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Canada Revenue Agency investigates leaks of info on high profile taxpayers

The Canada Revenue Agency generally takes taxpayer privacy very seriously. It's rare to hear about any leak or misuse of personal information from the federal tax department. Lately, however, the CRA, or at least some of its employees, have come under suspicion as confidential records of high-profile taxpayers have appeared online.

The Candian Press reports on a leak of information about MP and former hockey star Ken Dryden:

Tax office staff warned of disciplinary action as CRA probes Dryden tax leak


TORONTO (CP) - Canada Revenue Agency workers are being warned of disciplinary action, including dismissal, following a published report that federal employees had leaked the confidential tax information of Liberal MP Ken Dryden.

"It is unsettling to consider that not all employees may be working with the degree of professionalism and integrity that the CRA expects," writes Larry Hillier, assistant commissioner for the Ontario region, in an internal e-mail to CRA employees obtained by The Canadian Press.

"As with all allegations of wrongdoing, an immediate investigation is being launched to determine if a breach of our standards has occurred," the memo reads. "If warranted, disciplinary action will be taken, up to and including termination of employment."

The tax information of Dryden and several other sports personalities, including former Toronto Maple Leaf Borje Salming, is available on the Internet courtesy of debt collectors who have been illegally leaking the information.

National Revenue Minister Carol Skelton has asked the CRA to launch an immediate investigation in the wake of the original CP report, which was published Saturday.

CRA workers are violating the Income Tax Act, the Privacy Act, and possibly criminal law by feeding information to former employee Alan Baggett, who in turn posts the disclosures to an Internet chat group.

The Dryden story, posted in May 2005, says the former Montreal Canadiens goalie and Leafs general manager once had a "small personal tax debt, which he no doubt paid." A former employee who worked on Dryden's file confirmed the debt to CP.

Neither Dryden nor Salming replied to requests for comment on the postings. The postings did not indicate Dryden's current tax situation.

CRA employees who are found guilty of disclosing tax information, a violation of the Income Tax Act, face fines of up to $5,000 or jail time of up to 12 months - a fact Hillier points out in his memo.

"When one employee breaches confidentiality, as is currently alleged, each and every one of us is impacted," Hillier writes, noting his "high level of confidence in the employees of the Ontario Region."

"You can be assured that all necessary steps are being taken to thoroughly investigate this matter."

Depending on the circumstances, the disclosure of confidential information could also constitute a criminal offence. Under the Criminal Code of Canada, breach of trust by a public officer is punishable by a maximum prison sentence of five years.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The CRA has known about Mr. Baggett for over 5 years, and they have been aware of his postings for the past 3 years. Ms. Skelton received the complaint about Baggett in February 2006 - over 10 months ago - and yet only when it hits the press is she "deeply concerned". Mr. Ralston admits that the CRA was aware of and monitoring the posts, which means CRA management allowed for the continuation of this confidential info to be posted. And why does it take a leak of info on "high profile taxpayers" to initiate an investigation? There are dozens of stories posted that violate the Privacy Act and Income Tax Act. It's disturbing that only when Mr. Dryden's name is mentioned that suddenly it warrants investigation. I certainly hope that heads at the highest level roll for these breaches. I am firmly convinced that at the CRA, protecting the privacy of taxpayers is optional and that their rhetoric about confidentiality is not to be believed.