A program aimed at “forging a new relationship” between Canada’s Senate and Indigenous youth has suffered an embarrassing privacy breach.
Sen. Dan Christmas revealed in an email to an undisclosed number of people that personal information of some candidates for the Youth Indigenize the Senate program in 2017 was located “in the streets” of downtown Ottawa just a few weeks ago.
Christmas, an Independent senator from Nova Scotia, chairs the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.
He said Senate officials “conducted a physical search of the area and recovered papers that were found” during the weekend of April 24. He apologized the information was compromised.
“We wish to assure you the Senate is undertaking a full and robust internal inquiry into the circumstances of this incident,” he said in an email to a woman who was nominated for the program.
“We are taking all necessary measures to prevent any recurrence of this situation.”
The area where the papers were found is called Lowertown and located about a 15-minute walk from Parliament Hill, which houses the Senate.
Abby Morning Bull, who works at the University of Lethbridge in southern Alberta, said the name of the neighbourhood means nothing to her but is upset her privacy was violated.
Morning Bull said she was nominated (but not selected) for the program in 2017 after a colleague put her name forward online.
“What bothers me is this was a hard copy,” she said in a telephone interview Monday with APTN News.
“So you had to go down and pick the papers up off the ground?”
Christmas, in his email to Morning Bull, said the personal information that “may have been inadvertently disclosed” included her full name, email address, age in 2017, whether she identified as First Nations, Inuit or Métis, name of community organizations she worked with in 2017, name of her community and province or territory or origin, the community and province or territory where she lived in 2017, and (name of the) person who nominated her and rationale for her nomination.
“We want to let you know as well that the person who nominated you is also being contacted about this incident because the nomination form also included similar personal information about them,” Christmas added.
“We wish to assure you the Senate is undertaking a full and robust internal inquiry into the circumstances of this incident. We are taking all necessary measures to prevent any recurrence of this situation.”
Christmas did not respond to a request for an interview sent late Monday.
It’s not clear from his communication how many people had their information disclosed or how the Senate learned the documents were on a Lowertown street.
Youth Indigenize the Senate has been running since 2016, according to the program’s website.
It said it gives participants a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of Parliament, along with an opportunity to meet other Indigenous youth from across the country.
Their insight would also “help senators as they complete an important study on forging a new relationship between Canada and First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples,” the website said.
Along with apologizing to Morning Bull in his email of April 29, Christmas promised to send contact information for an Elder she can tap for support “during this emotional hardship.”
“But I’m still waiting on that,” she said Monday. ‘It said ‘shortly. We will send the information along shortly.’”
There was no phone number for Morning Bull to call to seek more information. But Christmas did refer her to the office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.
APTN sent an email to the privacy commissioner seeking comment, which was not returned Monday night.
Morning Bull said she feels uneasy about what happened and wonders who was responsible. She’s also worried about identity theft.
Christmas doesn’t speculate how the forms got to Lowertown or who may have taken them there.
“I do remember there was quite a few of us from the activist community who applied,” she said of the program in 2017. “There were over 100 applicants and 10 youth were chosen.”
She said her employer treats personal information carefully.
“They are very rigid with their rules around personal information of our students. I know you’re supposed to keep it under lock and key…You’re never supposed to take your student information home,” she said.