Privacy commissioner wants Nunavut government to be proactive about mail system changes

Nunavut Information and Privacy Commissioner Graham Steele says the GN needs to do more to prevent sensitive mail from falling into the wrong hands. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada )

Government should tell employees to update their addresses by Oct. 31

The Nunavut government needs to be more proactive in updating its own employee’s addresses to prevent mail from falling into the wrong hands in Iqaluit, according to report from the territory’s information and privacy commissioner.

Graham Steele’s report, released Tuesday, looked at whether the territorial government was prepared for changes made to the city’s postal services and what measures they put in place to make sure the situation went smoothly.

“If you just wait for people to come to you, you’re going to capture some of the population, but they just need to do more,” Steele said.

When a second post office opened in Iqaluit last fall, Canada Post reorganized its mail system, moving from P.O. boxes to civic addresses for its roughly 8,000 residents. This change also meant the city went from having one postal code to multiple postal codes.

The transition resulted in delivery delays, lost mail and and high delivery costs for the new postal codes. It also happened close to the holidays, leaving residents frustrated.

In November, Steele sent a letter to the government of Nunavut outlining his concerns with the new mail system and mailing confidential documents, including health insurance cards, pay stubs, disciplinary letters and income assistance documents.

Health and finance fall behind

In his report, Steele looked at four departments: Health, Finance, Family Services and Human Resources.

Steele says both Health and Finance haven’t put adequate measures in place to reduce the risk of mail being sent to the wrong address.

He also says the addressing change increased Family Services’ risk of misaddressed income assistance mail, but noted the department has worked to reduce that risk.

Steele recommends Health and Finance communicate with their employees before October 31 — the one-year anniversary of the postal changes.

“The only way to protect people’s privacy is to make sure that you have the right address in the first place,” Steele said.

When it began transferring over to the new system, Canada Post told residents that it would transfer mail for one full year, even if it was sent to their previous address.

Steele said time is running out before that Oct. 31 deadline.

“If they don’t have the correct addresses then, a lot of mail is not going to get to the person that it’s sent to,” he said.

The four departments have 90 days from the report’s release date to respond to Steele’s recommendations.

Two of those departments responded to requests from Radio-Canada.

“We have already taken initial action to address these concerns as outlined in the report. We have not had sufficient time to plan next steps in response to the report which was released yesterday,” deputy finance minister Daniel Young said in an email.

The only department Steele did not issue recommendations for was the Department of Human Resources, saying he did not note any increased privacy risk for Iqalummiut working in that department.

Human Resources spokesperson Irma Arkus said in an email that, they “are reviewing the commissioner’s report and as a result will be evaluating how to ensure privacy-sensitive mail is used for correspondence with employees.”

Access to info still a slow process

Steele also released his annual report on Wednesday for 2023-24.

According to him, Nunavut’s access to information system is “standing still” and “change is slow,” due, among other things, to a lack of staff and Nunavut’s outdated legislation.

A lack of resources is the main shortcoming Steele notes in his report.

“Last year, I wrote ‘capacity issues inside the GN are killing ATIPP.’  That is still true. In this report, I could repeat exactly what I wrote last year,” Steele wrote.

“The fundamental problem with the information system in Nunavut is not a lack of will. I don’t see people actively resisting, it’s that the system is not properly staffed,” he added.

Health-specific legislation

Steele said it’s time that the Nunavut government adopts health-specific privacy legislation, which every other province and territory has except B.C.

“There’s many players involved in the system, from health-care workers to pharmacists,” he said.

“What is missing right now is the detail about what their exact responsibilities are, what exactly they have to do with the health information that they receive and what the consequences are if they don’t handle that information properly.”

“None of that detail is currently in the Nunavut law,” he said. “The rest of Canada has a law like that. It’s far past time that Nunavut caught up.”

Steele will present his annual report at a televised hearing in Nunavut’s Legislative Assembly on Friday and Saturday.

-Reporting by Matisse Harvey, with files from Nick Murray

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: 3,000 people affected by privacy breach after break-in at N.W.T. gov’t office, CBC News

CBC News

For more news from Canada visit CBC News.

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

Leave a Reply

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.
Netiquette »

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *