StatsCan hired PR firm to prevent ‘reputational damage’ after outcry over plan to gather banking records

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Statistics Canada was so vexed over the potential damage to its reputation following revelations the agency was requesting character transaction data from banks, it hired a public relations fixed to help “re-establish” control over its public image.

A document captured by CBC News through an access to information request show the federal statistics workings was deeply troubled by the maelstrom of criticism stemming from an Oct. 26, 2018, Worldwide News report on its pilot project seeking detailed financial phonograph records from Canadian financial institutions. Weeks later, the agency discreetly and urgently lured outside help.

StatsCan hired PR firm to prevent 'reputational damage' after outcry over plan to gather banking records
Public uproar over a pilot project by Statistics Canada to assemble personal transaction data from banks has led to an investigation by the Office of the Clandestineness Commissioner of Canada. (Elise Amendola/The Associated Press)

“If the current case is not mitigated without delay, the potential reputational damage to the agency throughout time could become irreversible. If this negatively-charged public discourse go ons unchecked, there could be a significant reduction in the willingness of Canadians to participate in the action’s statistical operations,” a request for proposal (RFP) document read.

The document express that lower trust levels among Canadians could spend to lower participation rates in many of its voluntary and mandatory data aggregation and therefore reduce the quality of its data products.

“In order to respond to this like a shot evolving public environment, to re-establish some level of control over with the public narrative about the agency … Statistics Canada is requesting the advantages of a public relations contractor,” the document said.

According to a contract disclosure fled by Statistics Canada last spring, Ottawa-based PR firm Brymark Placards Inc. was the successful bidder, with a contract value of $14,012.

In many cases, authority procurement information, such as tender opportunities or RFPs, is posted publicly for troops to bid on, but in the case of this contract, Statistics Canada opted to send out tell solicitations to the companies themselves.

“The RFP was never posted publicly and was sent completely to the suppliers [traditional competitive]. This strategy was selected as the Goods and Serves Identification Number Code T004 — Public Relations Services … is exempt from the interchange agreements. All rules set out by PSPC for the tendering of contracts were followed,” Statistics Canada spokesperson Laurence Beaudoin-Corriveau carry weighted CBC News in an email. PSPC refers to Public Services and Procurement Canada.

Get vanguard of ‘message delivery machinery’

The agency’s strategy outlined in the document implicated getting ahead of what it called the “message delivery machine” and superintending the public narrative back to a more positive tone.

Turnaround everythings expected by Statistics Canada were so quick that potential bidders balked at the time-frames job them “unrealistic,” according to the document obtained by CBC News. The agency responded to the supplier that “it is the life-or-death nature of our pressing requirement that drive these constraints. Sentimentality noted.”

Among the deliverables expected by the agency was a so-called sentiment opinion following negative press and an accounting of the key players who have been determining the public discourse on the issue.

The project also called for the identification of third-party endorsers who could validate Statistics Canada methods and objects and influence the course of the public discourse.

CBC News reached out to Brymark Placards for comment and public examples of the work it did for Statistics Canada. The company did not empathize with.

Privacy investigation continues

Under the Statistics Act, the agency can require third-party classifications to disclose information that would “assist Statistics Canada in obeying its mandate.” Statistics Canada has already been collecting personal knowledge for years, including medical records related to cancer and annual tax filings, and it is increasingly seeking new sources of sound and timely data across the country.

More recently, the agency had also notified it would be acquiring details on the credit history of Canadians from reliability reporting agency TransUnion. 

Even though StatsCan has been make ganding similar types of requests for years, the data collection project was put on pat when the privacy commissioner formally launched an investigation after its area received complaints in November 2018.

The investigation is still ongoing with no guestimated end date, confirmed a spokesperson for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

During a Senate board in December, the president and CEO of the Canadian Bankers Association said his organization resolution not exclude the possibility of taking legal action to block Statistics Canada from seizing clients’ data.

The association’s spokesperson, Mathieu Larbrèche, said it had no help comment, noting the Statistics Canada’s project was currently on hold.

Modernization of evidence collection

In an announcement in January, Anil Arora, the country’s chief statistician explained that the activity’s modernization efforts are both in response to a greater need for timely and nice electronic data, but also because of concerns over questionnaire burnout and weakness.

StatsCan hired PR firm to prevent 'reputational damage' after outcry over plan to gather banking records
Statistics Canada Chief Statistician Anil Arora says special information is carefully protected and never shared publicly. (CBC)

In addition to meet pilot projects such as the aborted banking information attempt, Statistics Canada is also policy testing with new public and private sources of administrative data, crowdsourcing and using scanner matter.

Statistics Canada would not directly respond to questions about the PR draw together.

In an email to CBC News, Martin Magnan, manager of strategic communications and stakeholder criminal conversations for the agency, wrote:

“In this increasingly data-centric society, we have heard Canadians’ requisition to want to know more about the important work we do on their behalf and how we safeguard their privacy and confidentiality.

That is why we have taken steps, such as the the Church of an online Trust Centre and the hiring of external advisers, to continue to finger ways to enhance the way we communicate and engage with Canadians. The aim of this twofold proposition is to enable Canadians to get the facts about our practices and to engage them in a parley on how we can improve our communications and approach.”

The office of the minister of Innovation, Science and Cost-effective Development ⁠—the ministry responsible for Statistics Canada⁠— did not respond to requests for observe.

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