Department of Justice Canada

Department of Justice Canada

June 09, 2015 11:59 ET

Government of Canada Introduces Measures to Protect Personal Information of Canadians

New legislation introduced to protect Canadians from discrimination based on genetic test results and information

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - June 9, 2015) - Department of Justice Canada

Today, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Peter MacKay, announced the introduction of legislation aimed at better protecting Canadians and their personal information, by preventing the misuse of genetic information in Canada. This legislation proposes amendments to three federal laws, namely, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, and the Privacy Act, to provide greater legal clarity on the protection offered by these laws with respect to genetic test results.

Quick Facts

  • The proposed amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act would make it clear that discrimination on the basis of genetic test results is prohibited. This Act applies to the federal government and First Nations governments, as well as to federally regulated businesses and industries such as banks and telecommunications companies, in matters of employment and the provision of goods, services, facilities, and accommodation.
  • The proposed amendments to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act and the Privacy Act would provide greater legal certainty that "personal information" protected by these Acts includes information resulting from genetic testing. These Acts put strict limits on the collection, use and disclosure of personal information such as genetic test results.
  • To support the coming into force of the legislation, the Treasury Board's Policy on Privacy Protection would be amended to address how government institutions, acting in their capacity as "employer," manage the results of genetic testing to prevent discrimination on this basis.
  • In addition, the Government of Canada plans to promote discussions with provincial and territorial governments, to explore other ways to prevent the misuse of genetic information. During these discussions, the provinces and territories will be encouraged to consider how, within their jurisdiction, to provide greater protection against discrimination based on genetic test results for Canadians.

Quotes

"Canadians are growing increasingly concerned with the protection of their very personal information, as genetic testing methods become more sophisticated and more accessible. Our Government clearly signalled our intention to protect Canadians from the possible misuse of their genetic information, through our commitment in the October 2013 Speech from the Throne. By introducing this legislation we are taking an important step in the right direction for Canadians, but we cannot do it alone and the safety and integrity of our genetic information will also require efforts from our partners. On behalf of all Canadians, I urge provincial and territorial governments, as well as private industry, including insurance companies, to follow our lead by also taking steps to prevent genetic discrimination within their areas of authority."

Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

"As a leader in genetic research in Canada, CHEO is keen to protect the future of medicine and improve the health of Canadians in childhood and beyond. It is important to have a framework in place to protect Canadians from genetic discrimination. We see the need for this legislation, and we will hope it will benefit many Canadians today and in the future."

Alex Munter, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

"We commend the government for taking an important step forward and raising the urgent need to combat genetic discrimination in Canada. Moving forward, it is imperative that provincial and territorial governments across Canada quickly pass complementary legislation to ensure genetic discrimination is prevented and genetic test information is protected for all Canadians across all jurisdictions."

Bev Heim-Myers, Chief Executive Officer, Huntington Society of Canada.

Associated Links

- Protecting Against Genetic Discrimination

- Canadian Human Rights Act

- Privacy Act

- Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act

- Federally Regulated Businesses and Industries

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Backgrounder

Protecting Canadians Against Genetic Discrimination

Government of Canada takes action to prevent discrimination on the basis of genetic test results

In the October 2013 Speech from the Throne, the Government of Canada committed to taking steps to help prevent discrimination on the basis of genetic testing, to better ensure the safety and protection of Canadians, from the possible misuse of their personal information. The Government is taking a multi-faceted approach to advance that commitment:

Through Legislation

The Government of Canada has introduced legislation to address issues that fall under federal authority:

  • The proposed amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act would deem discrimination on the basis of a predisposition to a disability, as inferred from genetic test results, to be discrimination on the ground of disability. This Act applies to the federal government and First Nations governments, as well as to federally regulated businesses and industries such as banks and telecommunications companies, in matters of employment and the provision of goods, services, facilities, and accommodation.
  • Proposed amendment to the Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) would specify that information resulting from genetic testing is among the types of personal information protected by these Acts.

    The Privacy Act protects personal information collected, used and disclosed by federal government institutions listed in the Act, as well as any parent Crown Corporation and any wholly-owned subsidiary within the meaning of section 83 of the Financial Administration Act.

    The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) protects personal information that is collected, used and disclosed by private sector organizations in the course of commercial activities. It also protects information on employees who work for a federally regulated business.

• Through policies

To support the coming into force of the legislation, the Treasury Board's Policy on Privacy Protection would be amended to address how government institutions, when acting in their capacity as "employer", manage the results of genetic testing to prevent discrimination on this basis. For example, institutions would not be permitted to collect the results of genetic testing outside of exceptional circumstances where bona fide occupational requirements exist.

• Through leadership

The Government of Canada will promote discussions with the provinces and territories to examine other options for preventing the misuse of genetic information. During these discussions, the provinces and territories will be encouraged to enact laws within their areas of jurisdiction, including in matters relating to employment and insurance, to protect genetic information and prevent discrimination on the basis of genetic test results.

Constitutional division of power

Canada's Constitution divides law-making powers between the federal and provincial governments. Each level of government may only legislate within its own jurisdiction.

Federal authority to pass laws related to employment issues applies only to employment in the federal government, a First Nations government or a private company that is regulated by the federal government, such as a bank or a telecommunications company. The provinces and territories are responsible for regulating employment matters involving all other employers.

With respect to insurance businesses, the federal government has the authority to pass laws about incorporating insurers and providing for their corporate governance. The provinces and territories are responsible for passing laws related to insurance contracts.

International perspective

Other countries with common-law systems similar to Canada's have taken diverse approaches to protecting their citizens from genetic discrimination. For example:

  • The United Kingdom and New Zealand have negotiated agreements with insurers in order to help protect against genetic discrimination of their citizens.
  • Australia has laws prohibiting genetic discrimination by employers.
  • In the United States, the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act prohibits genetic discrimination by employers and private health insurers. Canada's public healthcare system already provides basic coverage to all permanent residents without discrimination.

Contact Information

  • Clarissa Lamb
    Press Secretary
    Office of the Minister of Justice
    613-992-4621

    Media Relations Office
    Department of Justice
    613-957-4207