Thank you very much.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. I'm joined this afternoon by Denis Berthiaume, Senior Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer, and Bernard Brun, Vice-President, Government Relations, Desjardins Group.
First, I want to say that, at Desjardins, we were ambivalent about this exceptional committee meeting.
On the one hand, this meeting may seem premature, since we're in the process of managing this situation and the police investigations are ongoing. It's far too early to assess the situation. As such, we intend to tell you everything that we know, but in a way that won't interfere with the ongoing investigations.
On the other hand, we see this special meeting as an opportunity to inform legislators and the public about the security of personal information and the need to rethink the concept of digital identity in Canada. In my reflection process, this point prevailed.
First, I'll state the obvious. What happened at Desjardins has happened elsewhere and could happen again in any private company or public organization whose mission involves personal information management. We can think of several banks around the world, such as the American bank Chase, Sun Trust, the Korea Credit Bureau, or a number of government entities in Canada and the United States, to name a few, that have been the victims of malicious employees.
Desjardins is a leading financial institution and one of the largest cooperative financial groups in the world, with more than $300 billion in assets. In 2015, Bloomberg ranked the Desjardins Group as the strongest financial institution in North America, ahead of all Canadian banks. In other words, even the best aren't immune, and we believe that this message must be heard.
Personally, I've been working at the Desjardins Group for 27 years. I chose this organization at the start of my career because the financial institution has managed, after nearly 120 years, to successfully combine the economic and social aspects of our society.
The malicious actions of one employee led to this deplorable situation. That employee has now been dismissed. He violated all the rules of our cooperative. In this situation, we acted as quickly as possible and as transparently as possible, with the sole objective of protecting the interests of our members. That was our priority.
On June 20, a few days after learning of the extent of the situation, we went public and shared all the information available, in conjunction with the police forces. At that time, we also announced the measures implemented to address the privacy breach.
We've taken all the necessary measures to address the situation. We quickly implemented additional monitoring and protection measures to protect the personal and financial information of our members and clients. We informed all the relevant authorities, including the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the Commission d'accès à l'information du Québec, the Autorité des marchés financiers, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, and the Quebec and federal departments of finance.
We've implemented additional measures to confirm the identity of individuals when they contact us. We're constantly monitoring all our members' accounts. The procedures for confirming the identity of our members and clients when they call the Desjardins caisses, Desjardins Business centres and our AccèsD call centre have also been the focus of additional measures.
We contacted the affected members through the AccèsD private messaging system and by personalized letter, to inform them of the situation and of the steps that they needed to take.
We've also added extra measures to help with the activation of the Equifax monitoring package. The affected members can now register in four ways. They can register on the Equifax website, through the AccèsD telephone service, through the AccèsD web and mobile application, and directly in our Desjardins caisses by speaking with their advisor.
We're actively working with the different police forces. Lastly, we're working with external experts to continue to protect our members' personal information.
I can confirm that we acted diligently. After we received information from the Laval police service, we conducted an internal investigation and quickly traced the source of the breach to a single employee. The employee was suspended and then dismissed.
At this time, our main priority is to reassure, assist, support and protect each and every member affected by the situation.
Again this morning, we announced new protection measures for all our members. In this digital age, we at Desjardins believe that all our members must be protected.
As I was saying, Desjardins announced this morning that, from now on, all members of our cooperative will be protected from unauthorized financial transactions and identity theft. Membership is automatic and free of charge, regardless of whether they've been affected by the data breach. Since this morning, Desjardins has been protecting all its individual and corporate members. This sets a precedent in the financial services world in Canada. We're the first institution to take this step. In this situation, Desjardins is acting with rigour, a sense of duty and the willingness to honour its special relationship with its members.
We've entered an age where data is a resource on par with water, wood and the raw material needed to run entire sectors of our economy. Data is now the raw material for a whole innovative economy that will lead to tremendous productivity gains and make life easier for Canadians.
Canada is a few months away from the implementation of 5G mobile connectivity, which will increase the flow of data tenfold. According to experts, this ultra-fast connectivity will lead to futuristic applications related to artificial intelligence. Canada is already among the world leaders in this area with its three hubs, Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton. In addition, as we speak, the Department of Finance Canada is in the process of conducting a consultation on open banking, which would help open up the transactional sector. Several European countries have already made the shift.
I'll humbly ask you, the legislators, the following questions.
Is Canada currently well equipped to manage these promising technological developments, which also involve new risks? Should our identification systems be adapted to the digital age to ensure the protection of privacy and to better deal with cybercriminals? This issue is the whole notion of digital identity, which I referred to a few minutes ago.
I want to respectfully point out that these are real issues raised by the situation at Desjardins.
In closing, I want to make a proposal. I'd like to invite the committee to recommend to the Government of Canada the creation of an ad hoc multi-stakeholder working group to advise the government on how to regulate the management of personal data and digital identities. We believe that a group that listens to Canadians' concerns should at least include representatives of governments, the financial services and insurance sector, and the telecommunications sector, along with jurists and experts, or any other group that the government deems it appropriate to involve in the reflection process.
The mandate of this committee should consist of advising the government on legislation and regulations; ensuring the protection of the public; encouraging innovative technological development for the benefit of Canadians and communities; and ensuring the strategic monitoring of best practices around the world, so that Canada is always up to date.
I personally believe that Canada can't pursue excellence in digital technology and artificial intelligence without having the same ambition for data and personal information management. We must all learn from the current situation at the Desjardins Group.