Earlier this month, the province of Ontario ended police access to data about Ontarians who had tested positive for COVID-19 — a provision that was permitted in April when the government passed an emergency order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA).
However a group of human rights organizations — the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Aboriginal Legal Services, the Black Legal Action Centre, and HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario — launched a lawsuit challenging the decision to release personal health information and that it “violated individuals’ statutory privacy and constitutional Charter rights.”
The lawsuit was dropped after the province restricted access to the database.
However, on Monday, the groups announced they are targeting police services that accessed the database and have sent letters to the five police services in Ontario that had the highest per capita use rate of the database.
“While we welcome the province’s decision to stop sharing this information with police services, we remain deeply concerned about the continued local storage and use of personal health information that has already been accessed by police services across the province,” the groups stated.
Among them is the City of Kawartha Lakes Police Service in Lindsay. The groups say the police service accessed the database 1,015 times while it was active which the groups say is “unusually high.”
In their letter to police services board chairman Don Thomas and police chief Mark Mitchell, the groups say they want all personal health information that was collected to be deleted.
They also want information on where the COVID-19 data was stored, who had access and for what purposes, as well as details regarding the process of how the data will be deleted.
“We are also concerned about the extremely high number of access requests made by the Kawartha Lakes Police Service,” the letter reads. “Taking into account the population served by the Kawartha Lakes Police Service, KLPS has one of the top five per capita data access rates in the province. The abnormally high number of times the data was accessed raises concerns about whether the database was being used appropriately and whether this large amount of personal information is still being used locally.”
Global News Peterborough has reached out to Thomas and Mitchell for comment.
In an email to Global News Peterborough, Mitchell said the service received the letter on Tuesday and will be discussing the information requests with the police services board.
“I can say that we recognize that the use of the COVID database was a difficult balance between the privacy of individual medical information and the safety of front-line personnel who continued to provide emergency services during the pandemic,” Mitchell told Global News.
“The City of Kawartha Lakes Police Service implemented measures to ensure that the database was used only for the prescribed purpose and that confidential information was handled in adherence to the EMCPA and its Regulations.”
The groups want an audit of the use of the database and make the results of the audit available to the board and the public.
“Transparency and accountability require that the public be informed of the reasons for the Kawartha Lakes Police Service’s unusually high number of searches against the database,” the letter concludes.