Consular Policy Regarding the Use and Disclosure of Personal Information
This document describes how the Consular Branch of Global Affairs Canada (“the Department”) uses and discloses personal information collected in order to provide consular assistance to Canadians abroad. Consular policy regarding the collection, retention, or disposal of personal information is set out in the appropriate Personal Information Bank in Global Affairs Canada’s Info Source.
1. Consular Services Privacy Notice Statement
At the outset of a consular case, consular officers will offer to provide the client with a copy of the Consular Services Privacy Notice Statement (“the Statement”). When first contact with a consular client occurs by phone, consular officers will offer to read the Statement aloud to the client or provide the client with a copy of the text either at the first in-person encounter, or by email or mail. The Consular Services Privacy Notice Statement informs the client of the circumstances in which his or her personal information may be shared while he or she is receiving consular assistance. This is consistent with Recommendation 18 of the Report of the Events Relating to Maher Arar. The Consular Services Privacy Notice Statement is posted on the Consular Services website.
The Consular Policy on Use and Disclosure of Personal Information applies to all clients and their personal information collected in carrying out the consular mandate, even in rare cases where it is impossible to communicate the Consular Services Privacy Notice Statement to the client at the outset of a case.
2. Disclosure with Consent
At the request of a consular client, consular officers may disclose personal information to individuals and organizations (e.g., friend, family member, spokesperson, etc.) identified by the client as persons or entities to be informed and kept apprised of the case. The scope of consent, including the specific individuals and organizations with whom information can be shared, as well as what type of information can be shared, should be captured in the “Consent to Disclose Personal Information” form, which consular officers will complete during their initial engagement with clients. In circumstances where it is not possible to obtain the request in writing (by way of an in-person meeting), an oral request from the client will be accepted and documented by consular officers. In the case of oral consent, consular officers will make every effort to obtain written consent at a later date.
3. Consistent Use Disclosure without Consent
In accordance with the Privacy Act, consular officers may disclose personal information about a consular client without the client’s explicit consent if such disclosure is required to resolve a consular case. Examples of this include: information disclosed, where necessary, to contact, protect, rescue, repatriate, or evacuate Canadians citizens, to assist with arrangements for Canadians who become ill, are in need of medical assistance, or die abroad, or for the development of consular policy and the communication of advice to missions abroad.
The Privacy Act authorizes disclosure of personal information without consent of the client for reasons that are consistent with the purpose for which the information was collected in the first place - that is to resolve a consular case - under paragraph 8 (2)(a). This type of disclosure is referred to as “consistent use disclosure.” The authorized consistent uses are described in the appropriate Personal Information Bank in Global Affairs Canada’s Info Source.
Consistent use disclosures include the sharing of information with the offices of the various Ministers within the Department, including their Parliamentary Secretaries, when advising them on the status of a case, seeking direction on a particular course of action, or seeking action on behalf of a case. In some instances, direct involvement in a case by the offices of Members or Parliament, Senators or high-level government officials outside of the Department may also be required in order to resolve a case.
Personal information may also be shared with Canadian Heads of Mission, to fulfil their responsibilities for the oversight of the consular program. Heads of Mission are bound by the same legal limitations on the sharing of personal information as consular officers.
In all instances of consistent use disclosure, consular officers must make every effort to protect the client’s privacy by limiting the amount and specificity of the information they divulge to that which is strictly required in order to provide consular assistance. Personal information must only be disclosed on a “need to know” basis. All instances of consistent use disclosure outside the Department require prior director-level approval by the Consular Case Management Division. All information that requires sharing outside the Department must also be labelled, at minimum, “Protected B" and must be preceded by the following disclaimer:
“This document is provided for information purposes only and contains personal information which is protected under the Privacy Act. Distribution is restricted and under no circumstances should the information be further shared without prior authorization of the Director General of Consular Operations of Global Affairs Canada.”
4. Sharing of Information with Other Government Departments
Consular officers abroad will not share personal information with officials from Other Government Departments (e.g., the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canada Border Services Agency, etc.) including at missions, unless this disclosure is required to resolve a consular case and/or is consistent with the permissible disclosure sections under Subsection 8(2) of the Privacy Act (outlined below). The sharing of information with Other Government Department officials, for any purpose, must first be authorized by the Director of the Consular Case Management Division, in consultation with the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Division and with the Global Affairs Canada Legal Services Unit, as appropriate, in order to ensure that the sharing is performed in accordance with the Privacy Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, where applicable.
5. Other Permissible Disclosures without Consent
Outside of consistent-use disclosures, subsection 8(2) of the Privacy Act provides for other disclosures of a client’s personal information, which do not require the client’s consent. Under the provisions in Subsection 8(2) of the Privacy Act outlined below, personal information may only be disclosed with a minimum director-level approval from the Consular Case Management Division. Further approvals might be required, depending on which subsection is being contemplated.
The following paragraphs under Subsection 8(2) list other situations where the disclosure of information is permissible and which may apply to consular information collected and held by the Consular Branch:
For any purpose in accordance with any Act of Parliament or any regulation made thereunder that authorizes its disclosure; e.g. pursuant to the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, which permits information sharing between certain Government of Canada institutions (as outlined in Schedule 3 of the Act) in order to protect Canada against activities that undermine the security of Canada provided that the threshold in the Act is met.
For the purpose of complying with a subpoena or warrant issued or an order made by a Canadian court, person or body with jurisdiction to compel the production of information or to comply with rules of court relating to the production of information.
To the Attorney General of Canada for use in legal proceedings involving the Crown in right of Canada or the Government of Canada.
To an investigative body specified in the Regulations, on the written request of the body, for the purpose of enforcing any law of Canada or a province or carrying out a lawful investigation, if the request specifies the purpose and describes the information to be disclosed.
Personal information may only be disclosed under paragraph 8(2)(e) pursuant to a written request that must include: the name of the investigative body, the name of the individual who is the subject of the request, a description of the requested information, the section of the federal or provincial statute under which the investigative activity is being undertaken, and the name, title and signature of the requesting member of the investigative body. Disclosure under provision 8(2)(e) is strictly limited to those federal investigative bodies named in the Regulations (Schedule IV of the Privacy Regulations).
Under an agreement or arrangement between the Government of Canada or an institution thereof and the government of a province, the council of the Westbank First Nation, the council of a participating First Nation — as defined in subsection 2(1) of the First Nations Jurisdiction over Education in British Columbia Act —, the government of a foreign state, an international organization of states or an international organization established by the governments of states, or any institution of any such government or organization, for the purpose of administering or enforcing any law or carrying out a lawful investigation.
To a Member of Parliament (i.e. members of Parliament and Senators) for the purpose of assisting the client in resolving the case (e.g., additional details to help the member of Parliament intervene on the case).
To any government institution for the purpose of locating an individual in order to collect a debt owing to the government by that individual or make a payment owing to that individual by the government.
For any purpose where, in the opinion of the head of institution (as defined below) the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs any invasion of privacy that could result from the disclosure (‘public interest disclosure’), or disclosure would clearly benefit the individual to whom the information relates (other than to resolve a consular case which is covered by consistent use disclosure) (‘individual benefit disclosure’).
The decision to disclose personal information under paragraph 8 (2)(m) rests personally with the head of the institution (Minister or a delegated authority who are limited to the Deputy Minister, the Director General of the Corporate Secretariat, the Director or a Deputy Director of the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Division or the Head of Mission).It requires comprehensive advice and information, including from the Consular Case Management Division, the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Division, and as appropriate from the Global Affairs Canada Legal Services Unit. Disclosures under paragraph 8 (2)(m) also require the Department (via the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Division) to provide the Office of the Privacy Commissioner with prior or immediate written notification of the disclosure of personal information in accordance with subsection 8(5) of the Privacy Act.
6. Information Normally Not Disclosed
Consular officers will not disclose information that falls into one of the following categories:
- information that was obtained in confidence from another government, foreign or domestic, without consent from that government;
- information that could reasonably be expected to be injurious to the conduct of federal-provincial affairs, international affairs, the defence of Canada or any State allied or associated with Canada or the efforts of Canada toward detecting, preventing or suppressing subversive or hostile activities;
- information that was obtained from an investigative body, the disclosure of which could reasonably expected to be injurious to the enforcement of any law of Canada or of a province or the conduct of lawful investigations;
- information the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to threaten the safety of individuals;
- information that is subject to solicitor-client privilege (i.e., all communications oral or written of a confidential character, between a client or his or her agent and a lawyer directly related to seeking, formulating or giving legal advice or legal assistance).
7. Access Rights under Section 12
Under Section 12 of the Privacy Act, any Canadian citizen, permanent resident or person present in Canada has a right to and shall, on request, be given access to his or her consular information with limited and specific exceptions. Such individuals may also request corrections to their personal information. All requests received by Global Affairs Canada under Section 12 of the Privacy Act are processed through the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Division.
It is important to note that a consular client’s permission to share information with a primary point of contact in Canada for the purpose of keeping the individual apprised of his or her consular case does NOT equate to giving consent for that point of contact to exercise all rights of access on the client’s behalf under the Privacy Act. A separate explicit consent is required before the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Division can release any information under Section 12 of the Privacy Act to a consular client’s representative.
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