The importance of data security

The Canadian Primate (the equivalent of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York) of the Anglican Communion has offered a ‘ sincere and unconditional apology’ to survivors of sexual violence.

In February 2021 three survivors of abuse told The Anglican Journal (a paper owned by the Anglican Church of Canada – ACC) how four of the Church’s institutions (three dioceses and a school) had mishandled allegations made. The  information was given under assurances of confidentiality that the institutions concerned would not be named without explicit permission.

Whilst the editor was on leave of absence the journalist writing the story provided the ACC, under duress, with a draft article together with a list of the four institutions involved, but only after he himself had obtained assurances from the ACC that the draft article would not be circulated to the institutions concerned. It was circulated by the ACC. The survivors had not seen it or approved it beforehand. The information disclosed would have enabled the institutions concerned to identify the survivors. On discovery in May 2021, the survivors made multiple requests to the ACC for all recipients to delete copies and name anyone they had shared them with. Whilst most complied with the request two are understood to have refused. The editor and journalist resigned from post in June but the ACC did not announce their resignations until September 2021. The survivors have been seeking accountability ever since.

The apology was only made towards the end of March 2022, despite the survivors having support of 228 members who said “We expect church officials to keep confidences sacred and protect the Church from abusers. . .“We … share the survivors’ shock that the ACC broke … promises, abandoned their duties … and failed to care for the survivors’ privacy. We share their outrage … And we share their grief that their willingness to place their faith, hope, and trust in the Church was again betrayed.”

Two doctoral students at the Toronto School of Theology, said “To the best of our knowledge, no ACC church official has taken responsibility for the breach or experienced any consequences for choosing to circulate the draft. Right now, we cannot see how any survivors of sexual violence or other ecclesial abuses can trust an organisation that treats disclosures so cavalierly.”

Profound cultural change is needed, “starting with a clear repudiation of cronyism and corruption”.

Whilst the ACC carried out an investigation the report has not been disclosed to the survivors. The Theology students asked the ACC to release the unredacted findings of the investigation to a representative chosen by the survivors; require the resignation of the official who circulated the draft; and to “submit an apology for publication in the Anglican Journal that summarises the investigation report, confesses wrongdoing, and presents a plan of action that is a worthy beginning of repentance.”

The apology given appears to fall short of that expectation and does not appear to provide full accountability Dr Nicholls (the Canadian Primate) stating “At the outset, I must acknowledge that this has been a painful incident for all involved, but especially so from the sense of betrayal felt by their sources for the article and for the journalist and editor who felt it necessary to resign. Although we may, and must learn much from this incident, it cannot erase the harm done. We are committed to ensuring that it does not happen again and ensuring the integrity of our journalistic practices now and in the future. It was never intended that the article not be published.”

The Council of the General Synod said in a reply finalised on 15 March: “Our hearts break at the harm done to the individuals involved in this matter, and the likelihood that actions by the Church have reopened old wounds. Our hearts break at the suffering undergone by so many victims of sexual misconduct within the Church, both past and present. . . We are truly sorry for these things.”

The importance of confidentiality and ensuring no data breaches when dealing with such sensitive matters cannot be overstated and organisations would be prudent to ensure they have in place appropriate policies for the handling of sensitive data of this nature.


Written by Jagdeep Hayre at BLM (jagdeep.hayre@blmlaw.com)

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