Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia hunters upset over privacy breach after moose lottery

Every year, 345 hunters win a moose licence in Nova Scotia's annual lottery. This year, many of the lucky winners are expressing surprise and concern after the province breached their privacy.

One hunter says the information could be used to acquire extra bear, deer or small game licences

Every June, the Nova Scotia government holds a lottery and awards 345 winners a moose hunting licence for the Cape Breton highlands. (Parks Canada)

More than 300 hunters aren't feeling so lucky after winning a moose licence in Nova Scotia's annual lottery.

That's because the province sent them someone else's name and wildlife resource card number, with many now concerned about the implications of a privacy breach.

Derrick Musgrave, a hunter from Gardiner Mines, said he received someone else's information package in the mail this week, so he returned it to the Department of Lands and Forestry office in his area.

He still doesn't know who got his information or what's being done with it, but Musgrave said that's not the point.

"It's just my information and I'm not happy with the fact that someone else has it," he said.

Musgrave hasn't won a licence since 2005, and back then, the government published the names of winners in the newspaper, he said.

Information breach 'scary'

"I do believe the reason why they stopped publishing in the paper was the people that were lucky enough to win were hounded by outfitters ... and people received multiple things in the mail and they wanted to stop that," Musgrave said.

Jeff McNeil, president of the Port Morien Wildlife Association, didn't win a licence this time, but said more than 25 hunters who did contacted him after receiving someone else's winning package.

"That is a scary fact in itself, because you now have enough information to purchase a habitat conservation booklet or a hunter's booklet and you can purchase deer licences and bear licences with that," McNeil said.

He said not all hunters would take advantage of the privacy breach, but it is possible "and the only way it would come to light that somebody had done that is if they were stopped by Lands and Forestry or Nova Scotia environment conservation officers."

In addition to privacy issues for the hunters, using the information to obtain an illegal licence could result in extra animals being harvested and that would not be good, he said.

McNeil said he has not received a lot of answers from the Department of Lands and Forestry and he's concerned the government is trying to quietly pull back the information packages without alerting the public.

"That's how government normally works with day-to-day operations, right?" he said. "They don't want things out there."

Nova Scotia Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin says more than 300 hunters were impacted by a privacy breach, but he says the information leak was limited and is being fixed. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Following a June draw, the province issues 345 licences annually for the moose hunt in Cape Breton.

McNeil said many hunters feel it's a bigger win than Lotto 6/49. 

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin said Thursday more than 300 hunters were impacted by this year's privacy breach.

He said the lottery letters to hunters were printed separately from the envelopes and staff thought the letters were generic and not individually addressed.

Rankin said the breach was caused by human error and it is being fixed with new information packages being sent out.

Information leak 'low risk'

Anyone who received one in error is asked to return it to the department or confirm that it has been destroyed, he said.

"The information in the letters was limited and the risk is considered low at this point, but we'll continue to make sure that we tighten up all of the processes involved," Rankin said.

The province's privacy commissioner has been notified, but is not taking any action, he said.

In an emailed statement, the department said despite McNeil's concerns, anyone seeking a licence must present a wildlife resources card, not just the name and number.

The department also said it is illegal for anyone to buy licences they aren't entitled to purchase, with penalties for both buyer and vendor if found guilty.

The department said it is not trying to quietly pull back the winner packages that breached the hunters' privacy without alerting the public, because it notified the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters and all the winners.

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About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 16 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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