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B.C. privacy watchdog rejects First Nations’ bid to access location of COVID-19 cases

Click to play video: 'Concerns about B.C. First Nations not having access to COVID-19 data' Concerns about B.C. First Nations not having access to COVID-19 data
Global BC reporter Richard Zussman asks provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry about the privacy commissioner ruling that government officials do not have to give B.C. First Nations access to specific data about coronavirus infections in their communities. – Dec 17, 2020

B.C.’s information and privacy commissioner says the province is releasing enough information to allow First Nations and the public to mitigate the risks of COVID-19.

The Heiltsuk Tribal Council, Tsilhqot’in National Government and Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council asked Michael McEvoy to determine whether the Health Ministry had a duty to disclose COVID-19 cases near their communities.

Read more: B.C. releasing more detailed geographic COVID-19 data, but critics say it’s not enough

The Indigenous groups told the commissioner they can’t effectively govern without knowing about the COVID-19 infections in order to make decisions on things like curfews and stay-at-home orders.

The Health Ministry said disclosing the locations of cases, especially in small communities, raised the risk of identifying a person and compromising patient confidentiality.

Click to play video: 'First three months of COVID-19 vaccinations in B.C.' First three months of COVID-19 vaccinations in B.C.
First three months of COVID-19 vaccinations in B.C – Dec 16, 2020

McEvoy ruled Thursday that the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act does not require the ministry to release the information requested by the First Nations.

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He also agreed with the First Nations that the Public Health Act doesn’t override the provincial government’s duty to disclose information about COVID-19 infections.

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Dr. Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-cha-nulth Tribal Council said the decision left her feeling “angry, sad, confused all at the same time.”
“(We) need to be able to warn our people not to be able to go into such-and-such community because it’s high risk and if not to take usual precautions,” she told Global News.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday she had spoken with the First Nations Leadership Council, and remained committed to ensuring leaders had the data they needed to make decisions.

Read more: COVID-19 positivity rate higher for B.C. First Nations than other communities: health officials

“We are continuing to work, particularly with the coastal First Nations,” she said.

“We had a number of of really actually successful open meetings about the information they need, the information that we can provide to support it. And we are negotiating an agreement on that. I absolutely understand and commit to providing as much information as I can.”

However Henry said the province needed to keep certain information confidential in order to balance communities needs with individuals personal privacy.

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With files from Global News

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