After a series of privacy breaches, City of Yellowknife ignored commissioner's offer of help

In her annual report, N.W.T. Privacy Commissioner Elaine Keenan Bengts says the city of Yellowknife ignored her offers of help after a series of privacy breaches, showing a lack of interest in strengthening access to information and privacy policies.

Some councillors unaware commissioner offered to work with city on strengthening privacy policies

N.W.T. Privacy Commissioner Elaine Keenan Bengts says she saw the city 'stumble and trip awkwardly' following a series of privacy breaches, including one involving the misuse of security cameras on city properties. (CBC)

The Northwest Territories' information and privacy commissioner is calling out the City of Yellowknife for what she says is a lack of interest in strengthening access to information and privacy policies.

In her recent annual report, Elaine Keenan Bengts says this year she saw the city "stumble and trip awkwardly" as it dealt with a series of privacy breaches.

She cites hundreds of city emails that were leaked to media last fall, and allegations that Doug Gillard, the former head of Yellowknife's municipal enforcement division, used security cameras to view women at city facilities.

Keenan Bengts has been pushing for municipalities to be covered by territorial access to information and privacy laws in her last few annual reports. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

An independent inquiry determined it was "more likely than not" that city cameras were misused.

The city does not seem to be interested in formalizing their access and privacy policies.- Elaine Keenan Bengts

In her report, Keenan Bengts wrote that she sent a letter to the city, offering her assistance on privacy issues and the creation of a "strong privacy policy" at city hall, but she received no response.

Not the first offer

The commissioner said it was not the first time she has proposed working with the city on privacy concerns.

"The non-response has, however, been consistent," she said.

"The city does not seem to be interested in formalizing their access and privacy policies."

Keenan Bengts did not respond to a request for an interview before deadline.

Councillor's unaware of the offer

Some city councillors say this is the first they've heard of the information and privacy commissioner's offer.

Coun. Niels Konge says he'd like to know why the city didn't take Keenen Bengts up on her offer to help the city after the privacy breaches. (Submitted)
"I was not aware that the commissioner had reached out to the city on that stuff until I read it this morning in the media," said Coun. Niels Konge.

Though Konge does not believe council needed to be alerted to Keenan Bengts's letter, he does question why the city didn't take the commissioner up on her offer.

Coun. Steve Payne said he doesn't blame the city for the fall data breach, nor does he believe council should have been made aware of the commissioner's letter.

"If we didn't receive information on this, there was probably a good reason why," he said.

"Right now I'm happy with how Sheila has dealt with it," he added, referring to the city's senior administrator, Sheila Bassi-Kellett.

Municipalities not covered by territorial privacy legislation

Communities in the Northwest Territories are not currently bound by territorial access to information and protection of privacy (ATIPP) laws — something Keenan Bengts views as a major problem.

I appreciate that she offered that but I think it's a little bit unfair and perhaps a little erroneous to say we don't care because we didn't respond back to her"- Sheila Bassi-Kellet ,  Senior Administrative Officer, City of Yellowknife

She has recommended that municipalities be included in the legislation nearly every year for the last two decades.

Bassi-Kellett said the city didn't respond to Keenan Bengts because municipalities are outside her jurisdiction.

"I appreciate that she offered that, but I think it's a little bit unfair and perhaps a little erroneous to say we don't care because we didn't respond back to her," she said.

City has taken its own steps

The city has done lots of work to improve privacy following the email leak and the allegations of camera misuse, said Bassi-Kellett.

Specifically, it instituted a security camera policy and held a number of briefings with staff on the responsible use of its electronic document system, she said.

Even with the changes, Konge is careful about his use of the city's lines of communication.

"Niels is an anti-government guy," he said.

"I'm certainly not going to write stuff in an email that I wouldn't be OK with everybody in Yellowknife seeing, because I don't trust any of that stuff."

Legislation could change to include municipalities.

​MLAs are currently considering amendments to the legislation that would include expanding the law to cover municipalities.

B​assi-Kellett said the city is "open to considering ATIPP," but it would look to the territorial government to help fund a municipal ATIPP program.

She pointed out that Yellowknife is already subject to the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which governs how businesses handle the personal information of employees.