Advisory Council for the Modernization of Microdata Access - Summary of the inaugural meeting on July 18, 2019

Summary of the inaugural meeting

Date and location

18 July 2019, 8:30am-4:30pm
The Ivan P. Fellegi Boardroom, 26th floor, R.H. Coats Building
100 Tunney's Pasture Driveway, Ottawa


  • Anil Arora, Chief Statistician of Canada (Chair)
  • Mary Dawson, former Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Lawyer
  • Len Garis, Researcher and Adjunct Professor
  • Cal Marcoux, Chief Information Security Officer, Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI)
  • Chantal Bernier, Privacy and Cybersecurity Lead, Dentons Canada LLP
  • Robert Gordon, Executive Director, Canadian Cyber Threat Exchange
  • Jacques Fauteux, Assistant Chief Statistician, Strategic Engagement and Communications
  • Lynn Barr-Telford, Assistant Chief Statistician, Social, Health and Labour Statistics


  • Mr. Graham Flack, Deputy Minister, Employment and Social Development Canada
  • Dr. Kimberlyn McGrail, Scientific Director, University of British Columbia
  • Dr. Michael Baker, Professor, University of Toronto

Statistics Canada guests/support

  • Deryck Trehearne
  • Jacques Fauteux
  • Gabrielle Beaudoin
  • Greg Peterson
  • Heather Dryburgh
  • Martin St-Yves
  • Donna Dosman
  • Robert McLellan
  • Janique Godin
  • Marc St-Denis
  • Wesley Yung
  • Joanne Ellis
  • Ainsley Sullivan

1. Introductions and opening remarks

Anil Arora, Chief Statistician of Canada

Mr. Arora opened the meeting by stressing the importance of improving Statistics Canada's data access methods. The call for more granular data comes from all sectors across Canada. He outlined the desire to remain as a trusted, credible source of data for Canadians during this transition from survey to administrative data sources. Access, trust and privacy must continue to be at the highest level as the agency modernizes data access. He asked the council to provide guidance and feedback in upgrading the agency's IT infrastructure, services and monitoring capabilities related to access, as well as its plans to engage Canadians, moving forward.

2. The Importance of data access for policy and research purposes

Graham Flack, Deputy Minister of Employment and Social Development Canada

Mr. Flack outlined to council members how critical data are for his department to successfully deliver its mandate and perform its policy work. He provided two concrete examples (the Canada Child Tax Benefit, the Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program) that require the use of data to accurately measure the sustained impacts on Canadian families and their children, as well as on Indigenous populations.

3. Improving access to data

  • Heather Dryburgh, Director General of Census Subject Matter, Social and Demographic Statistics
  • Donna Dosman, Director of Microdata Access Division

Heather Dryburgh provided the council with an overview of StatCan's modernization initiative and its plans to expand the delivery of access to microdata to Canadians.

Donna Dosman shared information about the DataLab project, the agency's vision for a shared-risk framework with partner organizations, as well as the use of the 5 Safes Framework as a holistic approach to managing data access and to ensure the ongoing protection of personal and confidential data.

4. The value of quality data to address social and economic questions and issues

  • Dr. Kimberlyn McGrail, Scientific Director, University of British Columbia
  • Dr. Michael Baker, Professor, University of Toronto

Dr. McGrail presented the opportunities that exist on data expansion. She shared the merits of a Data Management Plan that involves transparency and public involvement.

Dr. Baker spoke to the importance of data availability to better public policy and research and discussed "data revolutions" currently underway in Norway and Sweden as examples of where there is greater social license, i.e. more public acceptability of data sharing.

5. Protected B cloud and data security

Janique Godin, Director, Information Technology Project Delivery

Janique Godin outlined the benefits of moving to a Cloud-based, IT infrastructure for access to data. Discussions centered on the agency's upcoming ability to monitor access, detect threats and take action in real-time.

6. Public engagement

Gabrielle Beaudoin, Director General, Communications and Dissemination

Gabrielle Beaudoin outlined Statistics Canada's adoption of a stronger engagement strategy with Canadians as improvements are made to its data access methods; the agency is to ensure clearer messaging when building transparency with Canadians.

7. Ensuring success of Council and next Steps

Lynn Barr-Telford, Assistant Chief Statistician, Social, Health and Labour Statistics

Lynn Barr-Telford discussed the term of reference of the council. Considering the depth and breadth of members' knowledge and the experiences they bring, there was agreement to broaden the scope of the council beyond modernizing access to microdata to include questions and issues related to ethics, privacy, governance and public perception.

As for potential topics for future meetings, it was agreed that the next meeting take place in approximately 6 months as a conference call; and the proposed main topic be the virtual DataLab access framework. The members were also supportive of adhoc conference call to cover specific topics as required.

8. Closing remarks

Anil Arora, Chief Statistician of Canada

Mr. Arora thanked members, and summarized the day's proceedings and the areas for identified for further exploration:

9. Discussion

The demand for more and granular data comes from all sectors. Society is changing its consumption levels of data. Statistics Canada is to build on its reputation of protecting confidentiality while remaining as a trusted source of high-quality data. The council recognised that timely access to high quality anonymized microdata is more relevant now than ever before.

New technologies will provide a secure IT environment with controls and monitoring mechanisms to meet the growing expectations of users for flexible access processes with greater collaborative tools. The council encouraged Statistics Canada to explore the use of these new technologies and infrastructures to support the new access framework.

The council suggested strong governance and oversight with internal compliance mechanisms while building the access framework of mutual trust with Canadians, reinforced by transparency, technology and public engagement.

Advisory Council action items

  • Build outreach with provincial Privacy Commissioners and Provincial Regulators to inform them of the agency's modernization agenda and to engage them. It was suggested that groups become a sounding board on the vision and social acceptability considerations.
  • Build outreach with Cloud security communities and take opportunities to speak at cyber conferences.
  • Engage with Canadians: state benefits for the country in modernizing. Use clear language that explains the corporate direction while respecting Canadians' privacy.
  • Strengthen the 5 Safes Framework by tying in greater governance. Consider Safe Uses rather than Safe Projects.
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