One of the most profound and lasting effects of the pandemic has been the accelerated digitization of our lives as part of our new normal. In the IPC’s annual report I look back over my office’s activities throughout 2021 and reflect on how this work has positioned us to serve Ontarians differently as we shift to a digital society.
Like many of you, I have experienced the ups and downs of working remotely and moving many aspects of life online. Even as we start returning to workplaces and venturing out in public again, all of us now expect to be able to go online anytime, anywhere, to access services virtually. Public institutions have already begun harnessing technology to digitize government programs and service delivery. Last year, the government released its first digital and data strategy with the aim of providing Ontarians with more convenient, reliable, and accessible services, and positioning our province as a world-leading digital jurisdiction.
However, while the government strives to be at the forefront of this digital era, we must equally strive to protect the public’s right to information and privacy while using those services. Access and privacy rights for all Ontarians play a vital role in ensuring that the very cornerstones of a digital Ontario are of solid construction, built to support the weight of the ever-expanding digital infrastructure of our online existence.
Now is the time to take action and make critical decisions that will influence the kind of digital society we want to live in — a future in which our children can grow up confident that their fundamental privacy and access rights will continue to be respected and their democratic freedoms will remain solidly intact even amidst this large-scale digital transformation.
To meet the challenges ahead, the IPC has established a bold and overarching vision to set our course for the next few years:
Working with relevant partners, we will strive to enhance Ontarians’ trust that their access and privacy rights are being respected through:
- Advocacy: actively advancing Ontarians’ rights in key strategic areas that impact their lives
- Responsiveness: responding to complaints and appeals in a fair, timely, and meaningful manner
- Accountability: maintaining the organizational excellence and accountability of the IPC
In 2021, we made great strides in advancing this three-pronged vision and I encourage you to read our 2021 annual report to learn more about:
- the work we have recently undertaken towards achieving our goals in four key strategic areas, namely Privacy and Transparency in a Modern Government, Trust in Digital Health, Children and Youth in a Digital World, and Next-Generation Law Enforcement;
- the changes we have initiated to our tribunal and the further process enhancements we have planned for next year to render our dispute resolution services more efficient, responsive and accessible online; and,
- the efforts we have made to build our internal knowledge, skills and capacity, modernize our technical infrastructure, and strengthen our management and accountability in the service of Ontarians.
The IPC’s annual report of 2021 is also an occasion to reiterate some of the major recommendations we made during the course of last year. Among these, we renewed our call for a made-in-Ontario private sector privacy law that would enable Ontarians to trust and engage in today’s digital economy. Ontario needs its own modern, efficient, and effective private-sector privacy law — one that is harmonized with other privacy laws across the country and internationally, but is also tailored to meet the needs of the people and businesses of Ontario. The government’s consultations on a made-in-Ontario private sector privacy law last year were promising but remain incomplete. It’s now up to the new government to pick up the mantle and actively pursue these efforts by leveraging the momentum toward stronger and more integrated privacy protection for all Ontarians across all sectors.
While digital technologies offer undeniable opportunities for young people to connect, learn, and collaborate in ways that never existed before, these benefits also come with real world safety and privacy risks. It is essential to equip children and youth with the skills they need to navigate the digital environment safely and ethically. This includes a solid understanding of their privacy rights, taught as part of the Ontario primary and secondary school curricula.
Significant amendments to PHIPA were introduced in 2020, but have yet to take effect pending the adoption of regulations. One of these amendments sets out the IPC’s power to impose administrative monetary penalties for serious breaches of Ontario’s health privacy law. We urge the government to set forth the details of the administrative penalty scheme in regulations without further delay. Ontarians need the assurance of knowing there will be real consequences imposed on the few bad actors who take away from the goodwill of the vast majority of dedicated health professionals, and undermine confidence in the entire health care system.
Finally, although an annual report is intended to reflect upon and account for actions of the past year, it inevitably prompts us to think about the future that lies ahead, including the future of our own work. As the IPC adapts to a post-pandemic work culture, a major priority of our office throughout 2022 will be to adjust our ways to a new hybrid model arrangement by providing an agile and flexible environment that is conducive to better, smarter work. We will actively nurture a sense of community and organizational culture, ensuring our staff have the physical, technical, and administrative supports needed to thrive as key contributors to the success and reputation of our office as a modern employer of choice.
Teamwork makes the dream work, as they say, and none of IPC’s accomplishments this past year — or any year for that matter — would be possible without the extraordinary team of highly dedicated and knowledgeable professionals at the IPC. Despite the challenges of 2021 and the ongoing uncertainties that lie ahead, they continue to demonstrate impressive resilience and a fervent commitment to the highest standards of organizational excellence and public service. I am honored and proud to serve alongside them.
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