Border agency's war crimes tag 'potentially misleading': privacy watchdog

Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart, right, and Assistant Commissioner Chantal Bernier speak in Ottawa in a 2009 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - The federal privacy watchdog says Canada's border agency broke the law by labelling people on its highly touted "wanted" list as war criminals — a potentially misleading tag the agency failed to justify.

The privacy commissioner is also taking the Canada Border Services Agency to task for leaving profiles of listed people on the Internet too long and failing to assess the privacy implications of the program in advance.

The commissioner found the overall thrust of the "Wanted by the CBSA" program was consistent with the agency's responsibility to enforce immigration and refugee law, and therefore permissible under the Privacy Act.

But the watchdog makes several recommendations for bringing the program fully in line with the privacy law — all of which the border agency has agreed to act on.

The border agency initiated the program in July 2011 by posting on its website a list of 30 people described as being accused of — or complicit in — war crimes or crimes against humanity.

The Canadian Council for Refugees complained to the privacy commissioner on behalf of Abraham Bahaty Bayavuge, a Congolese man who says he was merely a civil servant in his homeland and did nothing wrong.

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