Monday, January 08, 2007

More on privacy and the Canada Revenue Agency

The Canada Revenue Agency continues to be in the news as of late.

The Canadian Press has found that the CRA official leading the investigation into the disclosure of information about high profile taxpayers, including MP and former hockey star Ken Dryden, once faced the wrath of George Radwanski:

CRA commissioner probing Dryden tax leak once dismissed privacy breach finding

Gregory Bonnell

Canadian Press

Monday, January 08, 2007

TORONTO (CP) - The senior public servant leading a probe into the leak of Ken Dryden's confidential tax information once dismissed a scathing ruling by the federal privacy commission that found Canada Revenue Agency employees had violated the Privacy Act.

Larry Hillier, the agency's assistant commissioner for the Ontario region, launched an "immediate investigation" last month after a published report that employees had violated the Income Tax Act, the Privacy Act and possibly criminal law by leaking Dryden's information.

In an internal e-mail sent to CRA employees, Hillier also warned of possible disciplinary action, including dismissal.

"When one employee breaches confidentiality, as is currently alleged, each and every one of us is impacted," he wrote.

Hillier, however, had a decidedly different response in 2003, when the federal privacy commissioner found CRA employees committed a "serious violation" of the Privacy Act by accessing and disclosing the tax information of former employee Lillian Shneidman while investigating allegations that she had violated a taxpayer's privacy rights.

In an October 2003 letter obtained by The Canadian Press, Hillier defended the actions of his employees, despite the privacy commissioner's findings.

"I offer the following regarding the above-referenced report, which concludes that we inappropriately accessed Ms. Shneidman's tax information," Hillier writes in a letter to then-CRA human resources branch assistant commissioner Dan Tucker.

"It is felt that this particular investigation warranted the accessing of Ms. Shneidman's tax information, as a taxpayer raised serious allegations."

CRA employees who are found guilty of disclosing confidential tax information - a violation of the Income Tax Act - face fines of up to $5,000 or jail time of up to 12 months. Under the Criminal Code of Canada, breach of trust by a public officer is punishable by a maximum prison sentence of five years.

Shneidman, who was fired from the CRA in 2001, had been assured in a July 2003 letter from Tucker that the agency viewed "any breach in privacy as a very serious matter."

The CRA "will ensure that appropriate corrective action will be taken," Tucker wrote.

At least one of the employees involved in the incident has been promoted, said Shneidman - who continues to fight her termination, with cases pending before the Public Service Labour Relations Board and the Federal Court of Appeal.

Former privacy commissioner George Radwanski was unequivocal in his condemnation of the CRA's treatment of Shneidman.

"Accessing that information . . . for the sole purpose of confirming your status as a (CRA) employee was, in my view, totally unnecessary and a gross misuse of taxpayer information," wrote Radwanski, who faces charges of fraud and breach of trust after resigning that same year amid an expense-abuse scandal.

"I consider the use of your (tax) information in this instance to constitute a serious violation of the confidentiality rights afforded you under . . . the Privacy Act."


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