OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada — An email titled “LGBT Refugees from Iran,” sent from Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s office has raised concerns about privacy issues and whether the private information of Canadians may be used for partisan purposes.
Last Friday, some members of Canada’s LGBT community were sent the unsolicited email from Kenney extolling the government’s handling of cases of lesbian and gay refugees from Iran.
Some of its recipients are now wondering how Kenney knew to target them based on their sexual orientation or interest in LGBT issues.
In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Datejie Green, a lesbian who is a health researcher from Toronto, said:
“I just thought, my god, this is complete propaganda, how did he get my email? What the heck is going on here?”
“This is scary. This is actually really scary,” Green said. “I wasn’t just disturbed; I was frightened, because they’re clearly stockpiling lists of particular constituencies of Canadians for their propaganda.”
Other affected LGBT Canadians took to Facebook and social media websites to express anger over Kenney’s missive.
Randall Garrison, a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons and who is a member of the New Democratic Party, serving as the NDP critic for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and transsexual issues, said that if a clear explanation doesn’t come from Kenney’s office, the NDP may make a formal complaint with federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.
“I think there’s a serious privacy question here when the minister is obviously touching on a subject that’s very sensitive to many people and connecting up sexual orientation with individual names and addresses,” Garrison said. “I think we need a full explanation of how he put together that list.”
Under Canada’s privacy laws, political parties are mostly exempt from regulations governing use and collection of private information, but they do gather up significant amounts of highly personal data about citizens, including how they vote, their age, religious and ethnic backgrounds and other details.
Stoddart’s communication director, Anne Marie Hayden, called the case “troubling,” but added there is little the office is able to do. Hayden pointed out that Commissioner Stoddart has previously publicly warned that Canadians have no legal rights when it comes to personal information collected by parties and held in databases for partisan use.
“Our office does not have jurisdiction over political parties under either the Privacy Act or the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).”
Kenney’s office claimed Tuesday that the e-mail was a “response to individuals who have communicated with our office about gay refugee issues.”
However, guidelines for information sharing in the federal government stipulate that a minister cannot use personal information that is sent to him in his capacity as minister for MP or party purposes.