Revenue Canada privacy breach concerns artists, writers

Some of the writers, artists and others affected by a privacy breach at the Canada Revenue Agency are raising questions about the competency of the agency.

Margaret Atwood dismayed by 'sloppy' privacy breach that revealed personal tax information

Author Tim Wynne-Jones, whose privacy was breached by the Canada Revenue Agency, wonders what other problems may exist at the agency.

Some of the writers, artists and broadcasters whose private tax information was improperly made public this week by the Canada Revenue Agency have criticized the government for being “sloppy" with their confidential information.

"It does make you wonder what’s going on at the CRA," author Tim Wynne-Jones said when contacted by CBC News on Wednesday.

"If they can make this kind of gaffe, what else are they doing wrong?"

The agency has been scrambling to contact hundreds of Canadians – many of them rich and well known – who were caught in one of the most serious privacy breaches at agency that has reported at least 22 such incidents since April of this year.

A digital spreadsheet the agency erroneously sent to CBC this week included the names of several hundred mostly prominent Canadians, as well as their home addresses and the value of charitable tax receipts they had been given for donating art, manuscripts, sculptures, photographs and other objects to museums, art galleries, archives and other cultural institutions.

CBC News has withheld all personal information, with the exception of naming some of the individuals on the list.

Margaret Atwood tweeted that CRA had been “sloppy” in releasing information about her donations of papers to the University of Toronto.

Toronto broadcaster Dini Petty, whose donation of videotapes and a manuscript to York University appears on the list, said she was “disappointed” by the CRA breach.

“I would have thought the security would have been impenetrable,” she said.

'Hunt me down'

Asked whether she had lost confidence in the agency, Petty said: “I have complete confidence that Revenue Canada will continue to hunt me down like a dog for every penny I owe them for the rest of my days.”

Petty, Wynne-Jones and several others contacted said they had received no notification from the Canada Revenue Agency about the breach.

Toronto-based artist Charles Pachter called the disclosure of his personal details “very bizarre.”

“They should be called to task,” he said in an interview. “It’s silly that they divulged these names.”

Pachter said he was given a charitable receipt for donating a series of paintings to the visitor centre at Toronto’s historic Fort York site.

Canada Revenue Agency officials did not respond to questions Wednesday, referring instead to a statement issued by commissioner Andrew Treusch.

“The document was accidentally released to the CBC through human error,” it said. “When CRA became aware of the breach, CRA officials immediately contacted the CBC to inform them of the error and retrieve the documents. Retrieval efforts continue.”

Treusch added that all individuals affected would be contacted by registered mail and given a telephone number to get more information.

“The CRA shares the concern and dismay of those individuals whose privacy has been impacted and sincerely regrets the error.”

The agency has reported the breach to Canada’s privacy commissioner, and has promised a preliminary report before the end of the week.

Follow @DeanBeeby on Twitter