Sarnia IC apologizes for privacy breach, says he won’t resign

Cathy Dobson

Sarnia Integrity Commissioner Paul Watson has apologized for publicly displaying confidential information during a Zoom presentation to city council Monday.

“I am a 60-year-old trying to use technology during a pandemic and I made an unfortunate mistake,” said Watson. “I’m very sad about it and sorry for those individuals whose privacy was breached.

“Any breach of privacy is serious and all I can do at this point is apologize.”

Watson said the “share screen” function on his computer somehow displayed a page that identified the names of seven Sarnia residents who had filed complaints to his office about questionable behaviour at City Hall.

The privacy breach occurred during a refresher course for councillors on Sarnia’s Code of Conduct.

Paul Watson

“Whatever was on that screen was not on my main computer screen and I wasn’t aware it was public until the mayor and a technician alerted me that the page was up,” said Watson. “I immediately closed it.”

Though sorry about the breach, Watson rejected a call that he resign as Sarnia’s Integrity Commissioner, a job that pays $295 an hour plus travel expenses.

In addition to working for Sarnia, Watson is the Integrity Commissioner for the Town of Kingsville and was formerly Chatham-Kent’s IC from 2015 to 2018.

He said he has never breached confidentiality before, and waited while City Hall checked with Ontario’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner to understand the protocol.

On Wednesday, he said, he was directed to apologize and began phoning and emailing the seven people involved.

One of those publicly identified was local veterinarian Robert Dickieson, who was so upset he filed a complaint with both the Law Society of Ontario and the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.

Dickieson said he accepted Watson’s apology over the phone but isn’t withdrawing the complaints. And he still wants Watson’s resignation.

“The apology is too little too late,” said Dickieson who believes others will hesitate to launch confidential complaints with the Integrity Commissioner if they think their identity could be similarly exposed.

“He called me 48 hours after the event. It’s not enough,” said Dickieson, who was required to sign an agreement to maintain secrecy when he filed his complaint with the IC.

“He was making a presentation about integrity so he should be 100% aware of what to do if there’s a privacy breach.”

Dickieson said Watson told him over the phone the breach was “a screw up.”

“Screw ups happen but it’s very disappointing,” Dickieson said.  “He has to be held to a higher standard. This isn’t like a city employee slipped up.

“I believe things have to be better in the future.”

In his most recent semi-annual report, Watson said he received three complaints in the second half of 2020, found insufficient grounds to continue an investigation in all three cases, and billed the city $7,673.

Watson said he won’t resign because it’s not in the best interest of the city.

“Sarnia needs continuity and I intend to stay on,” he said.