Statistics Canada probes talk of leaked jobs data

Fri May 8, 2009 3:40pm EDT
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Statistics Canada said on Friday it was checking its procedures in the wake of market speculation that sensitive jobs data might have leaked out before their official release.

The figures -- which showed a surprising increase in April employment -- were released at 7 a.m. (1100 GMT) on Friday after reporters had spent an hour at Statscan writing the story under a strict communications embargo.

However, the Canadian dollar moved sharply higher starting around 6:20 a.m., prompting market talk that the positive jobs figures had been leaked.

"We're looking into this. We're checking to make sure we did all we could to guarantee the secrecy of these numbers," said Geoff Bowlby, director of labor statistics at Statscan.

"We don't know there was a leak," he told Reuters by phone, saying the agency had not launched a formal investigation.

As part of procedures designed to keep the jobs data secret, Statscan staff regularly shred documents and do not discuss details over the phone, said Bowlby.

Reporters at the briefing lockup are obliged to hand in their cell phones, BlackBerrys and other similar devices. All external communications are turned off by a Statscan media relations official until 7 a.m.

Bowlby said that the jobs data was released to select officials at the Finance Ministry, the Human Resources Ministry and the Privy Council office -- which serves the prime minister's officials -- on Thursday afternoons.

Bowlby said this was a long-standing procedure and said he had never heard of any other instances suggesting data had leaked out of the agency ahead of its official release.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Rob Wilson)