May 12, 2009 / 6:02 PM / in 9 years

Agency finds no evidence of Canada job report leak

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Statistics Canada has found no evidence to date that its staff or any media outlets leaked sensitive employment data last week before the official release of the figures, an official said on Tuesday.

The federal agency conducted a review of its security procedures in the wake of market speculation that unexpectedly strong job numbers were leaked before the designated time at 7 a.m. (1100 GMT) on Friday. The Canadian dollar moved sharply higher starting around 6:20 a.m. that day, raising the suspicions.

Geoff Bowlby, director of labor statistics at Statscan, said normal provisions to ensure the secrecy of the data were “as good as always” last week.

“We have a real strict culture of secrecy, especially when it comes to the labor force survey data. We know how important they are,” he told Reuters.

Statscan regularly shreds confidential documents or stores them in a secure cabinet and does not share data over the telephone, even among authorized staff. Some 35 Statscan officials have advance access to the data, most of them senior management, Bowlby said.

Copies are delivered the afternoon before release to select staff within the Finance Ministry, the Human Resources Ministry and the Privy Council office -- which serves the prime minister’s officials. These officials get the data at 2 p.m. but are not to brief their ministers until 5 p.m.

Reporters obtain the jobs report under strict embargo at Statscan at 6 a.m. and all external communication is cut off until 7 a.m.

Statscan stepped up measures at lockups this week, asking reporters to turn off their cell phones in addition to handing them in, and pulled down the blinds on all windows.

“There’s no evidence to suggest anybody in the media actually leaked this,” Bowlby said. “There’s always things we can do to improve our security practices.”

One opposition legislator said on Monday that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty had been flagging dismal jobs reports earlier this year and then kept silent last week. Liberal John McCallum fell short of accusing Flaherty of leaking the data but said his remarks may been taken by markets as a signal, leading to the unusual move in the Canadian dollar last Friday.

“The minister told us to expect big job losses for three months, but said nothing this month. It was a giant signal to traders,” McCallum told the House of Commons.

Flaherty told Parliament that the data was kept confidential and has denied commenting after seeing the numbers.

Reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Peter Galloway

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