Edmonton police chief pleased Shandro taking action on officers being coughed, spat on during pandemic

Click to play video: 'Alberta to allow for health information to be shared with first-responders in some cases' Alberta to allow for health information to be shared with first-responders in some cases
WATCH ABOVE: Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro announces a new public health order allowing police to learn what citizens' COVID-19 status is in some cases where an officer is intentionally put at risk. – May 5, 2020

Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee said Tuesday he is pleased to hear Alberta’s health minister has signed a ministerial order allowing law enforcement agencies to access information about citizens’ COVID-19 status in cases where officers have been spat or coughed on by someone claiming to have the disease.

“[This] will help to keep our front-line officers safe in the case of an exposure,” he said in an email to Global News. “We have unfortunately had a few incidents where our officers have been intentionally spit or coughed on by individuals claiming they have COVID-19, so the ability to verify whether someone has tested positive will also help us quickly determine whether officers in this situation are required to isolate immediately.

“I think this is a positive decision for the health and safety of not only our police officers, but for the citizens we serve as well.”

READ MORE: Alberta man accused of coughing in Mounties’ faces, saying he has COVID-19

At a news conference in Edmonton on Tuesday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro spoke to reporters about the order he signed a day earlier.

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“We take confidentiality seriously, but we will not tolerate our front-line workers being put at risk in this way as they work to keep the rest of us in this province safe,” he said. “The information would only be provided if a person exposes a police officer by coughing, spitting or sneezing on the police officer and claims that they are infected with COVID-19.

“It would confirm whether or not an individual has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days, so that the staff member — the police officer — knows, if he or if she needs to self-isolate.”

Shandro said that Ontario and other jurisdictions are taking similar actions to address the issue.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Civil liberties group concerned as Ontario cops get IDs of those who test positive

Global News reached out to Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer’s office for comment on how much of a problem such cases have been for law enforcement officers in Alberta.

“Law enforcement agencies would likely be best to provide any data as well as how specific measures may have an effect on them,” Jonah Mozeson, press secretary for the office of the minister of justice and solicitor general, said in an email.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 2 people accused of coughing on arresting officers in Mayerthorpe: RCMP

In an email to Global News on Wednesday, an RCMP spokesperson said “a mechanism was in place (for RCMP) before to get this type of information” but noted the new ministerial order will make that process simpler.

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On Thursday, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta issued a statement to Global News indicating there were no significant concerns with the order.

“As we have said from the outset of this pandemic, privacy laws are not a barrier to appropriate information sharing during a public health emergency,” the statement reads. “There are mechanisms in Alberta’s privacy laws that allow for the disclosure of information to avert or minimize an imminent danger to the health or safety of any person.

“This ministerial order adds a layer of certainty in specific circumstances where disclosure of personal or health information to a police service is in the interests of the health and safety of a police officer.”

However, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a legal advocacy organization, raised concerns about the order in a news release issued Thursday.

“The newly added provision is poorly worded and drafted broadly enough to allow for the blanket release to police of the names of all Albertans who have tested positive for COVID-19, and perhaps even the medical records of those who have not,” the JCCF said. “Minister Shandro’s new law contains no safeguards outlining the use, storage and retention of the personal data by police.

“It is unclear why the names of people who once tested positive for the virus and have recovered should be conveyed to police, or how long this information will remain in the police’s possession. There are no limitations on how the police may use this private and personal information. There is no clause that mandates that the information will be destroyed at a later date. Providing the personal information of patients to police so that it can be accessed at the police’s discretion is in effect a warrantless search without judicial checks and balances, and an alarming breach of privacy rights.

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“Knowledge of whether an individual has, in the past, tested positive or negative for COVID-19 opens the door to abuses of power, discrimination and over policing, which is an… (increasing) problem in Alberta.”

The JCCF has already mounted a legal challenge regarding Bill 10 which passed last month. The legislation amended the Public Health Act so that cabinet can make legislative changes without the approval of the Alberta legislature during a public health emergency.

“It provides sweeping, extraordinary and nearly unlimited powers to any government minister at the stroke of a pen,” the JCCF said on Thursday.

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