Consumer groups, privacy experts, entrepreneurs and business groups welcomed the introduction last fall of Bill C-11, a proposed modernization of Canada’s online consumer privacy laws.
Yet now that same bill sits stalled in the House of Commons, creating a high risk that it will “die” on the Order Paper if Parliament is dissolved and an election is called later this year.
Canadians should hope that doesn’t happen. Our country’s current privacy framework is badly outdated and does little to protect the online privacy of Canadians, as federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien has consistently pointed out.
In fact, it has been over two decades since Parliament enacted Canada’s existing legislation, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). That was long before anyone had ever heard of e-commerce, smartphones, or social media.
A failure by Parliament to proceed with Bill C-11 would set Canada back years, depriving consumers, entrepreneurs, and regulators the tools they need to tackle the challenges and realize the opportunities of the emerging data-driven economy. It would also undermine Canada’s economic recovery from the pandemic, given the accelerated pace of digitization and e-commerce.
While many people have recommended changes to the bill, no-one disagrees that Bill C-11 represents an improvement over PIPEDA. Advocates across the spectrum welcomed the bill’s tabling in the House of Commons last November. Examples of their statements include:
“Bill C-11 is a big win for privacy in Canada. For years, people have been calling on the government to increase protections for our digital privacy…Bill C-11 takes critical steps towards changing that status quo, making privacy a core business value, and restoring trust online. As the pandemic has forced so many of our most sensitive activities online this year, it couldn’t come at a better time. While some questions remain about the specific details, OpenMedia is optimistic about its potential impact…”Laura Tribe, Executive Director, OpenMedia
This long-awaited bill is more than just an update of PIPEDA; it is a reset – and a very interesting one. There is much to study, and there will no doubt be stakeholder disagreement over the scope and wording of a number of provisions. But this is a major and credible attempt to bring Canadian private sector data protection into step with the digital and data society.”Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy, University of Ottawa
“Today, data is the most valuable component of nearly every successful business in Canada, but without clear rules for the collection and use of data, privacy concerns associated with digital services will only continue to grow. To maintain public confidence and to get the most value out of powerful modern technologies, our country’s laws need to keep up with the 21st century economy…[It] is good to see the federal government playing catch-up.”Benjamin Bergen, Executive Director, Council of Canadian Innovators
The Business Council shares many of these sentiments. While there is a need for targeted amendments, Bill C-11 represents a responsible and pragmatic approach to privacy regulation. It strikes an appropriate balance between market forces and regulation, aligns with policies adopted by our major trading partners, and enables the private sector to innovate in ways that benefit consumers and society.
We fully appreciate the pressures that parliamentarians are under given the current pandemic. But time is not our friend. In less than a year, Canadian businesses could be locked out of the European Union if the protections put in place by Bill C-11 are not enacted and deemed “adequate” by the European Commission. The resulting loss of access to Canada’s second-largest export market would put jobs at risk and could encourage the flight of Canadian investment, talent, and ideas.
Canadian entrepreneurs and employers are equally worried about internal trade barriers. If Parliament abdicates its leadership role over the privacy domain, provinces will enact or amend their own privacy laws, resulting in a “spaghetti bowl” of inconsistent regulations across Canada. Canada’s ravaged economy cannot afford new trade barriers.
Given the costs of inaction, the Business Council calls on all Members of Parliament to support the immediate referral of Bill C-11 to committee for study.
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