New privacy rules for Saskatchewan MLAs

New privacy rules for Saskatchewan politicians and their staff after breach. Mike McKinnon / Global News

REGINA – Saskatchewan politicians will have to follow new privacy rules after a care aide’s employment record was sent to reporters. Changes have been made to the code of conduct for members of the legislature and their staff to ensure that they comply with the province’s privacy act.

They also need to get written consent to collect, use or disclose someone’s personal information or personal health information.

“Prior to this, the Freedom of Information Act didn’t technically apply to MLAs,” Saskatchewan Party MLA Jeremy Harrison said Wednesday.

“I think members tried to adhere to the spirit of the act, but now changing the code of ethical conduct to have that act apply to members, that is a change.”

READ MORE: Staff member had ‘lapse in judgment’ in release of information: Wall

Violating the code could bring a charge of contempt in the assembly. Harrison said the penalty could mean a fine, being kicked out of the assembly for the day or being removed from the house, period.

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Saskatchewan privacy commissioner Ronald Kruzeniski said in a report in August that the care aide’s privacy was breached when his personal information was shared by his employer, the health region and the Ministry of Health. Kruzeniski said they did not have any legal authority to release details of Peter Bowden’s job status after he complained about conditions at a nursing home.

Bowden was suspended with pay after he told reporters that seniors at the nursing home were being left in soiled diapers and bed linens for up to 10 hours. He was later fired.

The health region has said his termination was not related to his allegations.

READ MORE: Health care whistleblower terminated by Oliver Lodge in Saskatoon

Reporters learned of Bowden’s suspension in April via an email sent by a government source. Premier Brad Wall said a senior staff member who released the information had a lapse in judgment.

That led Kruzeniski to say that the rules around protection of personal information needed to change to apply to MLAs and members of executive council.

New Democrat Warren McCall said the change is a good step forward.

“Hopefully this will prevent situations where you had the premier and the health minister going rooting around in a private individual’s personnel file and using that information in a fairly dubious way,” said McCall.