Nova Scotia

N.S. man questions why SIN required for workplace education courses

A recent change requiring the collection of social insurance numbers for federally funded workplace education courses has raised concerns for a Hantsport, N.S., businessman and led him to drop out of a class.

'How invasive do we allow the government become?' says Hantsport businessman

A Nova Scotia man is raising privacy concerns after the federal government began requiring social insurance numbers for workplace education courses. (CBC)

A recent change requiring the collection of social insurance numbers for federally funded workplace education courses has raised concerns for a Hantsport, N.S., businessman and led him to drop out of a class.

Greg Pace said he was uncomfortable providing his SIN for the introductory financial management course offered through the Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce and funded by Ottawa.

"It was put to me that if we did not provide it, I couldn't be there. So obviously they really want this information. Why?" said Pace.

"It seemed very strange to me that to take a course through which I received no remuneration, there was no money passing through my accounts or to me personally in any way … that they would actually require a social insurance number to be able to allow me to sit there."  

The two-page intake form for the free 10-week course also optionally asks for participants' marital status, gender, number of dependents, employer, employment status, education level and racial identity.

Was optional until recently

Up until April 1, the provision of the SIN was also optional, according to provincial labour department spokesperson Shannon Kerr. But she said it is now required by federal labour-market transfer agreements in order for provinces to receive funding for the programs.

Kerr said SINs and other personal information are used to evaluate the training and ensure "the needs of participants in the program are being met." The collection of all information is done securely, she said.

Employment and Social Development Canada said the collection of SINs for employment programs is an established practice. SINs allow the government to create anonymized reports demonstrating the effectiveness of the programs for participants, said department spokesperson Christopher Simard.

Invasive government?

Neither the chamber of commerce or a department of labour representative, who was present for the first class, gave Pace an answer for why his SIN was needed, he said.

When they wouldn't allow him to opt out of providing it, Pace decided to instead drop out of the course.

"It boils down to why is it necessary that the government has this, because it is a sensitive piece of information. What difference will it make to them? What will they use it for down the road?

"How invasive do we allow the government become?"

David Fraser, a privacy lawyer at McInnes Cooper in Halifax, said the government should only collect SINs if they are necessary for the operation of a public program.

"The onus is also, I think, on the organization to explain to people why they want this information," said Fraser.

Identity fraud is the predominant concern if a SIN falls into the wrong hands, he said.

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