Supplement to Statistics Canada's Generic Privacy Impact Assessment related to the Survey on Individual Safety in the Postsecondary Student Population

Date: January 2019

Program managers:

  • Larry MacNaab, Director, Special Surveys Division
  • Lynn Barr-Telford, Director General, Health, Justice and Special Surveys Branch

Reference to Personal Information Bank (PIB)

Personal information collected through the Survey on Individual Safety in the Postsecondary Student Population is described in Statistics Canada's "Special Surveys" PIB. This PIB refers to information collected through Statistics Canada's ad hoc surveys, which are conducted on behalf of other government departments, under the authority of the Statistics Act. Special surveys cover a variety of socio-economic topics including health, housing, labour market, education and literacy, as well as demographic data.

The "Special Surveys" PIB (Bank number: StatCan PPU 016) is published on the Statistics Canada website under the latest Information about Programs and Information Holdings chapter.

Description of statistical activity

Statistics Canada will be conducting a voluntary Survey on Individual Safety in the Postsecondary Student Population on behalf of the federal Department for Women and Gender Equality in response to Canada's Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence. The survey will provide insight on the prevalence and nature of sexual victimization among postsecondary students, including witnessing and experiencing inappropriate sexual behaviours, harassment based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and sexual assault. Survey content also includes questions about the characteristics, consequences and reporting of these experiences, and students' knowledge and perception of the effectiveness of procedures and support services at their postsecondary institution. This information will be collected from adults aged 18 to 24 (17 to 24 in the province of Quebec) who are currently attending or who attended postsecondary institutions in their lifetime.

Reason for supplement

While the Generic Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) addresses most of the privacy and security risks related to this statistical activity, this supplement describes additional measures (see Mitigation factors) being implemented for collection and access to the information due to the sensitivity of the questions asked. This supplement also demonstrates the need to obtain this personal information.

Necessity and Proportionality

The collection and use of personal information for the Survey on Individual Safety in the Postsecondary Student Population can be justified against the four-part test proposed by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada:

  1. Necessity: The survey will fill a gap in quality national and regional estimates of sexual harassment, victimization and discrimination based on gender and sexuality in the postsecondary student population, a group previously identified as at-risk of victimization. The survey content and study inclusion criteria are the result of virtual and in-person engagement sessions aimed at identifying the information needs of a broad range of stakeholders and subject matter experts, including academics, researchers, service providers, provincial/territorial governments, and the Department for Women and Gender Equality.
  2. Effectiveness: The high quality, timely and relevant data produced from the survey will support the development of evidence-based policies to support the Government of Canada's Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence.
  3. Proportionality: A sample size of 54,000 has been assessed as methodologically optimal in order to produce statistics of quality that are representative of events of possibly low prevalence (i.e. sexual assaults) at the regional level in the postsecondary student population. The public benefits of the survey findings, which are expected to inform policies, laws, programs and support services aimed at improving student well-being and safety, are believed to outweigh the potential privacy intrusion from participating in this voluntary survey.
  4. Alternatives: No other quality sources of self-reported sexual victimization are currently available. Existing crime data, available from administrative data sources, are often limited to officially reported events that surround the threshold for criminality and which are believed to significantly underrepresent true rates of sexual victimization in the population.

Mitigation factors


Participants will be informed that their participation is voluntary before being asked any questions. For the Survey on Individual Safety in the Postsecondary Student Population, parental consent of minors will not be requested. For any data collection from minors, Statistics Canada's decision to seek consent from a minor's parent or legal guardian is based on what the minor is reasonably expected to understand. Statistics Canada considered factors such as the ability to understand the survey questions and to make an informed decision regarding their participation, their responses and the use of their personal information. As such, the guideline for the majority of Statistics Canada surveys is to seek parental consent for respondents under 15 years of age. This does not apply for this survey.

Sensitivity of the questions

The survey questions relate to personal safety, including witnessing and experiencing inappropriate sexual behaviours, harassment based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and sexual assault.

The content of the survey underwent two rounds of in-person testing, including a voluntary round of sensitivity testing to identify and address potential sources of harm for future respondents. As expected, some questions were confirmed as sensitive by the test respondents but the overall risk of harm to survey participants was deemed manageable through the mitigating actions described below.

All respondents will be informed of the sensitive nature of the survey content before participation via a letter and survey brochure explaining the survey purpose.

Since survey questions could invoke emotional reactions from the respondents, information to reach support services and resources for victims of sexual violence will be made available to respondents in various forms, including in the brochure mailed to respondents, on the survey questionnaire and on the Statistics Canada website. Survey interviewers and help desk staff will also have this information to provide to respondents as needed. Survey interviewers will receive training from a certified clinical psychologist on how to handle difficult interviews, and respondents triggered by the content of the survey. In addition, interviewers will receive training and resources on self-care strategies during the collection period.

Access to personal information

Statistics Canada has established that answers to sensitive questions collected from minors will not be disclosed to parents or guardians requesting access to their child's personal information given the disclosure of this information could possibly cause harm to the child.


This assessment concludes that, with the existing Statistics Canada safeguards, any remaining risks are such that Statistics Canada is prepared to accept and manage the risk.

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