Charges for document dump?

May 2,2007

By Jen Skerritt

A McPhillips Street insurance company could face suspension as an MPI broker and possible legal charges after hundreds of customers' personal documents were discarded in a Dumpster last weekend.

Manitoba Public Insurance is investigating why Weston Travel and Insurance Agencies did not properly destroy car insurance applications, filled-out travel itineraries and forms containing credit card numbers, home insurance information and valid Manitoba licence plates.

MPI spokesman Brian Smiley said MPI has a clear confidentiality policy that requires all brokers to shred documents and protect client privacy before personal information is disposed. He said MPI will review their disposal practices and Weston Travel and Insurance Agencies might have to suspend their business as a result.

"We don't take these things lightly," Smiley said.

"We're certainly not pleased and it shouldn't have happened."

Weston Travel and Insurance owner Ross Desiderio was distraught Monday, and said he's never had this happen in his 29 years of business.

Desiderio said he believes cleaning staff accidentally threw the documents in the Dumpster Saturday afternoon.

The company has nine employees who deal with about 5,000 clients, but does not shred personal information on-site. Desiderio said he has a contract with a recycling company in Transcona that picks up papers from the office, shreds and recycles them.

He said the company handles too much information to shred and recycle at their present location.

"My employees are very careful but something can get thrown out," he said, noting he will try to find out who threw out the documents.

"It can't be 100 per cent perfect."

The Winnipeg Police Service commercial crime unit seized the documents, but it will be up to the federal privacy commissioner to proceed with charges.

Brain Bowman, a Winnipeg lawyer who chairs the Canadian Bar Association's national privacy and access law section, said the incident shows many businesses still don't realize the privacy regulations are "law" and not just good business practice.

Bowman said the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act came into full effect in 2004, and allows anyone whose personal information ended up in the Dumpster to complain to the federal privacy commissioner and seek damages in a federal court. Based on the evidence, Bowman said complainants could have a good case.

"There is recourse," he said, noting organized crime is now using identity theft for illegal purposes.

"People can go to the commission and they can sue."

Bowman said it's troubling that these documents weren't destroyed properly and warns consumers to ask about a business's privacy policy. He said every business should have safeguards in place to protect their clients' private information and it should be available on request.

If it's not, Bowman said it might be time to shop elsewhere.

"It's unfortunate that we still have this happen in this day and age," he said.

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