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2022: We listened, we learned, we did things

Covering my fridge at home are various photos of the kids when they were little, endless lists of things to do, upcoming appointments, random recipes, and important phone numbers. You’ll also find inspiring quotes I’ve cut and pasted over the years as reminders of the most important things in life despite the hustle and bustle of every day. Among these is a quote from Mahatma Gandhi who once said:

Live as though you were to die today. 

Learn as though you were to live forever.

For me, 2022 was a year of learning. A year of interesting and informative conversations with Ontarians from all walks of life that sparked great ideas for new and creative initiatives at the IPC. I’d like to dedicate this end-of-year blog to all the fabulous guests we’ve had on the IPC’s Info Matters podcast who’ve opened our eyes to the real-world applications of our daily work and inspired whole new ways of looking at things.

It’s hard to believe that we’re already closing off a second successful season of Info Matters with our twentieth episode released just this week: Health equity: using data to make a positive difference for communities with Dr. Kwame MacKenzie. As we begin to line up season three, it’s a good time to reflect on what we heard, what we learned, and what we did as a result.

One exceptionally informative episode featured Jonathan Dewar, formerly of the First Nations Information Governance Centre, and Carmen Jones of the Chiefs of Ontario. We explored the OCAP principles of data ownership, access, control, and possession, and how they help promote the ethical use of data about First Nations, by First Nations, for First Nations, to effect positive health and social change. Hearing their views helped us understand how vital data is in supporting First Nations communities, informing necessary policy changes, and respecting their data sovereignty. This podcast inspired us to subsequently invite Jonathan to speak with all of my federal, provincial, territorial colleagues so they too could benefit firsthand from his important perspective. It also resulted in a fireside chat at a plenary session of the International Association of Privacy Professionals 2022 Symposium, where we brought to life the conversation of First Nations data sovereignty before the global information privacy community.

Access to data and government-held information is crucial to democracy. In my conversation with bestselling author and community activist Dave Meslin, we discussed how access to information supports civic engagement. He told me about some frustrating experiences he’s had with freedom of information requests he’s made in the past: trying to figure out where he could go to access the information he needed, filling out forms, and paying for information that should be publicly available in the first place. Dave and I also discussed the importance of transparency for enabling meaningful civic engagement. He spoke about a contest he created to motivate governments to improve the transparency of their public notices by spurring a sense of competition that resulted in an enthusiastic response by municipalities across the country. Dave’s work in this area inspired us to launch a Transparency Challenge in the fall of 2022 during Right to Know Week. We’ve invited public institutions to show and tell us about their innovative open data or open government projects or programs that advance public sector transparency in Ontario. The deadline to submit entries is January 13, 2023, and we’ve already received some very exciting entries, which we intend to display in a virtual showcase in the coming months.

Another insightful guest we had on the podcast this year was Keith Baybayon. As a first-year student at McGill and former President of the Ontario Student Trustees Association, Keith provided a young person’s perspective on digital privacy and described some of the risks and challenges that youth are facing in today’s online world. My conversation with Keith really drove home the need for the IPC to provide a forum for students to express their views. So, we did just that! In the fall, we invited young Ontarians to join the IPC’s first-ever Youth Advisory Council that we intend to officially launch early in the new year. Selected council members between the ages of 15 and 25 will be asked to provide us with real-world feedback on our education and outreach efforts aimed at youth. They’ll advise us on how we can become more effective at raising privacy and transparency awareness among this younger demographic.

Other conversations with Daniel Solove, international privacy expert and author of a children’s privacy book, and Matthew Johnson, Director of Education with MediaSmarts, inspired us to create Privacy Pursuit! Games and Activities for Kids as a way of teaching younger children about online privacy risks. Crosswords, word searches, cryptograms and other exercises provide parents and teachers with fun tools to encourage open conversations with kids about how they can navigate the digital world to explore, learn, and grow up with confidence, in a safe and respectful manner. To further our ongoing work championing the access and privacy rights of Ontario’s children and youth, we’ve begun working with MediaSmarts on lesson plans to put these tips into practice in classrooms across Ontario as part of their digital literacy programs. The lesson plans are scheduled for release in 2023, so stay tuned!

But to really appreciate the perspective of children and youth, we need to dial into the broad range of realities and experiences they are living through. Two episodes really emphasized the importance of infusing our work with diverse and inclusive perspectives that reflect the lives of all of Ontario’s children and youth. My conversation with Jane Kovarikova, founder of the Child Welfare Political Action Committee opened my eyes to the unique experiences and challenges of children and youth in care. In particular, as they age out of the system and are expected to face the world as independent young adults, yet are plagued by their past and lack the support they need to break free. Nicole Bonnie, CEO of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, also joined me on the podcast, and helped shine a light on privacy and transparency issues through an equity lens, bringing to light the particular challenges facing children, youth and families in marginalized communities. Their real-world experiences and valuable advice encouraged us to step up training for our investigators, mediators, and early resolution analysts, to ensure they’re well equipped to deal with difficult situations that arise in the child welfare sector and better able to understand and address complainants’ issues in an inclusive and empathetic way.

Finally, my health-related conversations with Dr. Duncan Rozario, and with Nyranne Martin and Shafique Shamji, have inspired us to select Building Trust in Digital Healthcare as the theme of our Data Privacy Day event on Friday, January 27, 2023, at the Central YMCA in downtown Toronto. Their perspectives — from a busy practitioner’s outpatient clinic to a large-scale health institution — have helped shape the public policy questions that are ripe for discussion. These include how to replace faxes in the health sector with more secure forms of digital communication, how to build privacy and security resiliency against breaches and cyberattacks, and how to foster a privacy-respectful culture across an organization both from the top down, and from the ground up. It’s a public event that will be held both in person and through a live webcast, so we hope you will join us for what promises to be a fascinating discussion.

Many of these and other valuable lessons learned through our Info Matters podcast have directly resulted in IPC actions and initiatives, which we’re hoping will enhance the real-world outcomes of our work across all four of our strategic priority areas. But learning and doing begins first with listening. Genuinely listening to the voices and perspectives of people who may see things differently, offer unique insights into the various aspects of our mandate and inspire action that can be truly impactful. So, to end this blog as I began with another inspirational quote, television host Larry King once said: “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”

So, thank you to all our podcast guests who participated in the first two seasons of Info Matters, and to all future guests of 2023 as we continue to listen and learn from you. These conversations, among many others, inspire us to take actions that are more creative, better-informed, and well-balanced, ultimately standing a greater chance of having positive impact on the privacy and transparency rights of all Ontarians.

In closing, I wish all of our readers and listeners a happy, healthy, and peaceful holiday season and may 2023 be a year that brings out the best in all of us.

— Patricia

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