The City of Kawartha Lakes Police Service (CKLPS) has sent a letter to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, along with other human rights groups, to address a report that the service accessed the province’s COVID-19 patient database more than 1,000 times.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Black Legal Action Centre, Aboriginal Legal Services and the HIV and AIDS Legal Services Clinic sent letters on Aug. 17 to five police services in Ontario that reportedly had the highest use, per capita, of the database. The CKLPS received a letter saying it had accessed the portal 1,015 times.
In its letter, the CKLPS did not refute that figure.
In April, the Ontario government passed an emergency order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMPCA) that allowed first responders, including police, to access data about Ontarians who had tested positive for COVID-19, including their names, addresses and birth dates.
However, earlier this month, the government ended that access following a lawsuit from several human rights associations. The groups argued that giving police access to patient information violates privacy and equality rights, has no legal basis and would unfairly target Black, Indigenous and other marginalized groups.
The lawsuit was dropped after the government ended access. However, the groups proceeded to send out letters to the five police services, asking them to destroy any patient information they may have stored in their database.
City of Kawartha Lakes police Chief Mark Mitchell and police services board chair Don Thomas responded to the Aug. 17 letter with a letter of their own on Monday.
The letter said members of the police service “understand the concerns raised and that the citizens of Kawartha Lakes, and Ontario, want to be assured that these exceptional authorities were only used for their intended purpose.”
The letter said that on April 14, the police service instructed its communications staff (eight full-time and five part-time staff members) to add patient information into their database and store it for 14 days. However, according to the letter, the communications staff were then asked on April 20 to not store any information in the database.
The service said data from the portal was “not extracted, stored, or used in any other format or any other purpose.” It also said the police database has been reviewed and that it currently has no records stored of anything extracted from the patient database or anyone’s COVID-19 status.
Why was the database accessed so many times?
In the letter, the chief of police and board chair explain that staff were allowed to access the database every time a call for service was made that required police personnel to attend in person. It says the CKLPS received 3,675 calls from a member of the public from April 13 to July 22.
The letter also said the police’s communications centre, which had access to the database, also dispatches units for the City of Kawartha Lakes Fire Rescue Services — which, according to the letter, explains why the database was accessed more than 1,000 times.
“We believe that the inclusion of fire related calls, and the authorized use of the portal in those instances, in our overall numbers to be a significant factor in the perception that our use of the portal was unusually high,” the letter said.
In closing, the letter also said that, on June 11, police were notified that the Ministry of the Solicitor General would be monitoring access to the database and would be contacting police chiefs directly if any “concerns” were detected in the use of the portal.
The police service said it was not notified of any concerns surrounding the use of the portal.