The Social Insurance Number (SIN) was created by the federal government in 1964 as an individually identifying account number for Canada’s employment insurance programs. In 1965 its use was extended to the Canada Pension Plan and in 1967 what is now the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) started using the SIN for tax reporting purposes.

Each SIN is assigned to one individual only, and is used to identify him or her for employment, government benefit programs and tax purposes. Canadian citizens, permanent residents and temporary residents with a valid authorization to work in Canada are eligible for a SIN.

Although the SIN is required only for specified government programs and services, over time it has become a commonly-used identifying number for a wide variety of organizations, in part because it is easy for individuals to remember their own SIN, and therefore it is easy for organizations to use it as an identifier. There is no law prohibiting the use of the SIN in this way, although it is very strongly discouraged by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Because of its widespread use, SINs have become a key piece of identity information and a key tool for identity thieves.

You do not have to give your SIN to a private sector organization unless they need it for a government requirement, such as employment or income tax purposes, reporting certain types of grants, loans and other forms of income supplement.

Situations When You Have to Provide Your SIN

The following are all of the situations in which you are required to provide your SIN, according to various laws:

  1. to your employer to get a Record of Employment and a T-4 slip for income tax and Canada Pension Plan, and if the employer is regulated under the Canada Labour Code, for other administrative purposes;
  2. on your tax return;
  3. to banks, trust companies and stock brokers who sell financial products or services that generate interest, for the purpose of reporting income to the CRA;
  4. when applying for Old Age Security;
  5. when applying for the Child Tax Benefit;
  6. when applying for the Guaranteed Income Supplement;
  7. when borrowing from the Canada Student Loan Program;
  8. in order to receive a Canada Education Savings Grant;
  9. to apply for the GST Tax credit; and
  10. for benefits or entitlements under the Labour Adjustment Benefits Act; the Farm Income Protection Act; the Canadian Wheat Board Act.

In addition to the specific uses required by federal laws (listed above), the Treasury Board of Canada, which has authority over the federal government operations and management, has also authorized a number of federal departments or agencies to use the SIN for the following programs:

  1. the Resettlement Assistance Program;
  2. benefits and entitlements under the the War Veterans Allowance Act; the Civilian War-Related Benefits Act; the Pension Act; the Flying Accidents Compensation Regulations; the Gallantry Gratuities and Annuities Order; and the Halifax Relief Commission Pension Continuation;
  3. the National Dose Registry of the Radiation Protection Bureau;
  4. the Rural and Native Housing Program of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation;
  5. for certain purposes related to the Social Assistance and Economic Development Program of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada; and
  6. the Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities.

What You Should Do if Asked for Your SIN

If a private sector organization asks you for your SIN, you should ask the following questions before providing it:

  1. Why does the organization want the SIN?
  2. Is this a purpose that is required by law?
  3. How will it be used?
  4. How will it be protected?
  5. Who will it be given to?

If the organization cannot answer the questions to your satisfaction, you should not give your SIN. If the organization refuses to provide you with the product or service you are looking for because you won’t provide your SIN, you can complain to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of BC or the Privacy Commissioner of Canada depending on the type of organization you want to complain about.

The Duties of Organizations

There is no law prohibiting an organization from collecting a SIN for identification purposes, although it is strongly discouraged. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has issued a fact sheet of Best Practices for the use of the SIN in the private sector.

It includes the following recommendations:

  1. The organization should specify whether it wants the SIN for purposes that are required by law, or for identification or other purposes, in which case the organization should clearly indicate that providing the SIN is optional;
  2. If the organization is required by law to collect the SIN, but also intends to use it for other purposes, it must tell you so and that your consent to such uses is optional;
  3. If the organization wants to use the SIN for a purpose that was not specified at the time the SIN was collected from you, it must tell you and get a new consent;
  4. The organization must have a way for you to easily withdraw your consent if you change your mind;
  5. The organization cannot require you to provide your SIN for a purpose that is not required by law. It cannot make the provision of a product or service dependent on you providing your SIN.

Examples of When You Do Not Have to Give Your SIN

The following are some examples of situations in which you are not required to provide your SIN if you are asked for it:

  1. in an application
  2. for a job (you have to give your SIN to your employer, but not before you are hired)
  3. to a college or university
  4. for rental accommodation
  5. to a rental car
  6. to any club, association or other membership
  7. for a credit card or loan
  8. for telephone service
  9. to cash a cheque
  10. to identify yourself
  11. when returning goods to a retail store

How Must the Government Protect Your SIN?

Federal government agencies are supposed to follow the Treasury Board Policy on Privacy Protection, which imposes operational requirements on government institutions to protect personal information privacy. (This policy replaced the Policy on Privacy and Data Protection dated 1993).

Can You Have More Than One SIN?

No, you are not allowed to have more than one SIN at any time (S. 141 of the Employment Insurance Act (Canada). It is an offence, punishable by a fine, to:

  1. knowingly apply for a SIN if you already have one;
  2. use somebody else’s SIN to deceive or defraud;
  3. lend or sell a SIN;
  4. manufacture a SIN card.

If you have been the victim of identity theft and your SIN has been used as a result of the identity theft, contact Service Canada and they will tell you how to get a new number. For more information:

Tips for Protecting Your SIN

  1. Do not carry your SIN in your wallet; leave it in a safe place and memorize the number;
  2. Do not show your SIN card to anyone except your employer;
  3. Always ask why when an organization wants your SIN;
  4. Use other information as an identifier;
  5. Report a lost or stolen cardto Service Canada’s Social Insurance Registration Office at 1-800-206-7218.

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