A group of Mounties has filed a lawsuit against the RCMP, alleging their medical records were obtained by their employer and shared outside the organization without consent.
Dave Reichert is one of the members who says his confidential file was used illegally by the RCMP.
“Some of the stuff is personal. It’s got nothing to do with work,” he told 16×9.
Reichert, a 33-year RCMP veteran, now retired, says he was seeing a psychologist for mental-health issues stemming from work-related harassment when the alleged privacy breach happened in 2012. So was Rollie Beaulieu, another former Mountie who says he was betrayed by his employer while still a member.
“A manager or officer in the RCMP who is not a doctor has no right to see your medical file.”
B.C.-based labour Lawyer Sebastien Anderson is representing five Mounties in a privacy breach lawsuit, which was filed in October.
All five have one thing in common: they were patients of long-time psychologist Mike Webster, a man who has long criticized the culture of the RCMP.
Anderson says the privacy breach happened when the RCMP tried to silence Webster in 2012, first by removing his funding to treat RCMP members, then by questioning his professional conduct in a complaint to the B.C. College of Physicians.
To support the complaint, the RCMP pulled information from Webster’s treatment files, alleging he made derogatory comments about the organization during treatment sessions, and that those comments could be harmful to his patients.
Anderson says it was payback.
“It certainly was a personal vendetta. The reason they went after him was that he was publicly critical of the RCMP.”
Ultimately, the complaint against Webster was dismissed. But he says in the process of filing the complaint, the RCMP committed a crime against its own members.
“Sharing your private medical information is not only a mistake, but it is … unlawful. It’s illegal. You can’t do that,” he said. “There are some medical conditions that would be embarrassing to a person, to know that their boss or their co-workers knew about this condition.”
By law, your medical information is sacrosanct; your doctor isn’t supposed to disclose it to anyone without your consent.
It’s different in the RCMP.
Unlike most other employers in Canada, RCMP members must seek approval from the RCMP’s in-house Health Services department in order to have the cost of medical services covered by insurance. And doctors have to send detailed progress reports back to the RCMP for any psychological treatments over six hours. The RCMP says it needs the information to make sure its members are healthy and fit to be carrying a badge and a gun.
But Sebastien Anderson says the RCMP has abused their access to that information, and used it illegally.
“I’ve never seen anything like this from any other employer,” he said.
“The health services office is supposed to be the repository for this confidential medical information, which they’re supposed to use for the purposes of the health services office and no other. So that information is not supposed to leave the health services office. It’s not supposed to be disclosed to line officers or administered to management. In this case it was.”
“It tells me that Mr. Paulson and his administrative staff think that they’re above the law,” Anderson said.
And Canada’s Privacy Commissioner agrees. A 2014 report called the RCMP’s actions a “serious privacy breach.”
Anderson says the most shocking part is senior commanders authorized the complaint, even though Health Services personnel had warned months earlier that some of Webster’s patients were at risk of suicide.
“It tells me that Mr. Paulson and his administrative staff think that they’re above the law.”
The RCMP did not respond to 16×9’s request for an interview.
Anderson says this is not an isolated case. Since filing the lawsuit in October, many more Mounties have come forward to him, complaining about privacy breaches by the RCMP.
Rollie Beaulieu says the ordeal has left a sour taste in his mouth after a long, distinguished career.
“I mean when I joined the RCMP, I was so proud to wear the Red Serge. I had made it with the best. And for a lot of my career it was good until I started to see what was going on, and it wasn’t nice.”
16×9’s “RCMP Confidential” airs Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 at 7pm.