Nova Scotia

New privacy commissioner committed to public awareness, advocacy

Nova Scotia's new privacy commissioner, Tricia Ralph, says she wants to continue the public advocacy work of her predecessor.

Tricia Ralph begins her job on March 1 following the retirement of Catherine Tully

Nova Scotia has appointed lawyer Tricia Ralph as the province's new freedom of information and protection of privacy watchdog. (The Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia's new privacy commissioner says she wants to continue the public advocacy work of her predecessor.

The government announced on Wednesday that Tricia Ralph, legal counsel for the information and privacy commissioner of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, will take over the job here on March 1. Catherine Tully retired at the end of August.

During Tully's tenure, she increased the amount of outreach and public awareness sessions offered by her office and Ralph said she wants to follow that lead.

"I do want to show Nova Scotians what their rights are and help them in that regard," she said in a telephone interview.

Prior to working for the privacy commissioner, Ralph worked as legal counsel for the Northwest Territories Justice Department, Northwest Territories Legal Aid, and as legislative and legal adviser for the Northwest Territories Department of Education, Culture and Employment.

Ralph said a growing interest in privacy and access to information led her to the job working in the privacy commissioner's office.

"I really wanted to make a change and get out of government and go over to the other side," she said.

Battles with government

Ralph inherits an office contending with multi-year backlogs to process appeals and that has repeatedly battled a government that isn't always quick to accept and act on recommendations, in part because they are not bound to.

Successive privacy commissioners in Nova Scotia, including Tully, have called for order-making power and to be made an officer of the legislature, noting Nova Scotia is one of the last jurisdictions in the country not to make the change that would give the office more teeth. Successive governments have rejected the idea, often after supporting it while they were in opposition.

Ralph said she's reserving judgment on the system here until she has a chance to get into the office and meet with staff. She was scheduled to talk with staff by phone for the first time Wednesday.

Catherine Tully retired from her post last August as Nova Scotia's information and privacy commissioner. (CBC)

Legislation was recently passed in the Northwest Territories giving the information and privacy commissioner there order-making power.

During her time up North, Ralph said dealing with privacy breaches was a predominant issue and something that's becoming more and more relevant for people as they're required to provide personal information to access government services. It's an issue that's also been a regular problem here in Nova Scotia, both within government departments and the provincial health authority.

"I don't think people really thought about this 10 years ago, but nowadays it's obviously a lot more of an issue for people," said Ralph

In a news release announcing Ralph's appointment, which is for five to seven years, Justice Minister Mark Furey also announced plans to create a new leadership role to oversee privacy. The executive director position will be an added resource to help improve overall efficiency of the office, according to the news release.

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