A statement from Reeve Barbara Shaw –
Wollaston Township impacted by privacy breach
In June of 2019, a complaint filed with the Municipal Integrity Commissioner included a package of emails that had been released by the Municipality without following the process outlined in the Municipal Freedom of Information Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA). As a result, a complaint was filed against the Municipality through the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC).
A related Freedom of Information request received by the Municipality triggered a search for documents. This revealed Municipal Staff had, during the 2018 Municipal Election, sent an electronic copy of the Municipal Voter’s List to a shared, personal Hotmail account. In addition to this, charts identifying eligible voters at both Red Eagle and Bear Ridge were also sent to this external, shared, Hotmail account.
This discovery was self-reported, by the Township, to the IPC, as required.
With these discoveries and reporting, the Township of Wollaston has been working with the IPC to understand the extent of the privacy breach. It is our responsibility to determine why information has been released, where it was released to, who shared it, who has copies, and we are also responsible for determining if this was a systemic practice. Wollaston Township is also responsible for taking steps to correct this action.
Wollaston Township was encouraged by the IPC to launch an audit of staff emails and files to determine if this was a regular practice and the preliminary findings are concerning.
Besides stakeholder emails being shared, and the voters list, legal documents were disclosed, closed session information was shared along with details on taxes, property values and personal information pulled from our tax rolls.
While staff did complete some freedom of information requests using the prescribed framework, it appears that certain members of our community were receiving information in a way that contravened MFIPPA.
Wollaston Township has worked to contact those community members who were the recipients of the documents that were released but to date, they are not responding to our enquiries and as a result, we are now required to proceed with legal assistance.
This breach is extensive and impacts anyone that was on the last voters list because names and addresses were released. The released list also includes data on anyone who had returned ballots before October 16, 2018.
Our audit also suggests that information and documents were released to individuals who were involved in legal challenges against the Municipality and, the audit also revealed that copies of leases were collected and held during the 2018 Municipal election.
Wollaston Township is continuing to work with the IPC to complete our audit and reporting. The Municipality is also working to develop and implement training so that a situation like this never happens again.
This was an upsetting discovery and the process is a difficult one to be navigating. All stakeholders have the right to fair and equitable treatment by Municipal staff and breaches of this nature are unsettling and unfortunately, they leave more questions than answers.
Reeve Barbara Shaw will be the contact person for any inquiries that stakeholders might have. At this time, if you were on the voters list in 2018, it is fair to say that your privacy has been breached and for that, the current Council and staff of Wollaston Township are deeply concerned and sincerely sorry.
As our audit process is completed, Wollaston Township will provide additional updates to both the IPC and to stakeholders who have been impacted. We are treating this as a developing situation and expect it to take some time to resolve.
If any members of the community believe that they have received personal information from the Municipality that was not the result of a Freedom of Information request, you are encouraged to contact the Municipality to assist with self-reporting.
For additional details:
Reeve Barbara Shaw