A former chief legal officer to the House of Commons will be Canada’s next privacy commissioner.
Philippe Dufresne has been nominated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to replace Daniel Therrien, whose term just expired. Canadian Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard was appointed interim privacy commissioner on June 3rd, holding the post until the appointment of the new privacy commissioner is confirmed.
“Mr. Dufresne is a leading legal expert and has a breadth of experience on human rights, administrative, and constitutional law,” Trudeau said in a statement. “I am confident that he would serve Canadians well in protecting and promoting privacy rights as Privacy Commissioner.”
UPDATE: After confirmation by the House of Commons and the Senate, Dufresne will take up his new post June 27th.
The appointment is made by the Governor in Council — the federal cabinet — after consultation with the leader of every recognized party in the House of Commons and group in the Senate, and after approval by resolution of both Houses of Parliament.
Dufresne may shortly have to deal with the Trudeau government’s second attempt to overhaul the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), the privacy legislation that covers federally-regulated sectors such as banking and telecommunications. A number of provinces have also adopted PIPEDA as their private sector law. The government has promised new legislation will be introduced, although it hasn’t said when.
The government let its first attempt, known as the Consumer Privacy Protection Act (CPPA), die when the Sept. 20, 2021 election was called partly because of Therrien’s blunt criticism of the bill.
Observers will watch to see if Dufresne continues Therrien’s call for Parliament to make privacy a human right. The Liberal government said the preamble of the CPPA described the purpose of the law was to establish rules to govern the protection of personal information “in a manner that recognizes the right of privacy of individuals with respect to their personal information.” Therrien said that wasn’t enough.
In one of his last public speeches Therrien said the business sector has resisted attempts to have rights-based federal public sector privacy law.
The CPPA would have expanded some of the powers of the privacy commissioner, including the power to force an organization to stop collecting or using information and to delete it. However, the commissioner would only have the ability to recommend non-compliance fines of up to $25 million or five per cent of a company’s global revenues to a personal information and data protection tribunal. The tribunal would have the final say. Therrien said there is no reason for the creation of a tribunal.
The government described Dufresne as a leading legal expert on human rights, administrative and constitutional law. He has been Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons since February 2015.
Prior to his appointment as Law Clerk of the House of Commons, he was the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s senior general counsel, responsible for legal services, litigation, investigations, mediation, employment equity and access to information and privacy.
Dufresne has successfully represented the commission before all levels of Canadian Courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada, in some of the key human rights and constitutional cases of the last two decades, the government said.
A graduate of McGill University’s law school, he is a member of the bars of Quebec, Ontario, and Massachusetts. He has been a part-time professor with the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Common Law and Queen’s University’s Faculty of Law, where he taught international criminal law, human rights, and appellate advocacy.