The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology started its study on Bill S-4, the PIPEDA reform bill, last week. While news reports suggested that Industry Minister James Moore was open to changes, government MPs warned that any amendments would mean the bill would go back to the Senate for approval and likely die with the fall election. For example, MP Mark Warawa stated:
Minister, if we were to then delay and amend, would S-4 then have to go back to the Senate to get passed? My concern is – this is needed and a vast majority of Canadians want this passed – if we amend it, what’s the chance of it passing in this Parliament? Because, it’s needed.
Moore acknowledged that MPs can suggest reforms, but emphasized that “there is some urgency.”
The government’s sense of urgency with the PIPEDA reform bill is striking given that it has largely stalled progress on the key provisions in this bill for years. In fact, in one instance it left a privacy bill sitting for two years in the House of Commons with no movement whatsoever until it died with prorogation. The historical background behind Bill S-4 is as follows:
November 2006: The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics commences hearings on PIPEDA reform, one year later than the five-year review process required by the statute.
May 2007: The Committee releases its report with many recommendations that are later featured in PIPEDA reform bills (including S-4).
October 2007: Government responds to the Committee recommendations. It does not agree with the recommendation to expand voluntary disclosure to private sector organizations, noting the opposition from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and privacy experts.
May 2010: First reading for Bill C-29, the first PIPEDA reform bill.
October 2010: Second reading for Bill C-29. Industry Committee never conducts any hearings on the bill, which dies with the election call in March 2011.
September 2011: First reading for Bill C-12, the second attempt at a PIPEDA reform bill. Bill never proceeds to second reading. Dies two years later when the government prorogues Parliament.
April 2014: First reading in the Senate for Bill S-4, the third attempt at a PIPEDA reform bill.
June 2014: Bill S-4 receives third reading at the Senate and first reading at the House of Commons.
October 2014: Bill S-4 referred to the Industry Committee before second reading.
February 2015: Industry Committee begins study of bill. Government emphasizes the urgency of the legislation.
The privacy bill needs to be passed (with the expanded voluntary disclosure provision removed), but to suggest that the government has treated this issue with any urgency requires ignoring nearly nine years of legislative history where PIPEDA reform ranked among its lowest priorities.