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Jay Cameron, Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms

Rights group planning legal challenge of Alberta COVID-19 health order

Friday, May 15, 2020 @ 9:17 AM | By Ian Burns

An Alberta legal rights group is planning to mount a challenge to a recently enacted provincial order that it says gives the government sweeping new powers to provide police across the province with access to confidential medical information.

On May 4, Health Minister Tyler Shandro issued the order, which authorizes the province’s chief medical officer of health to disclose medical information of people claiming to have COVID-19 to police officers. But the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) is arguing that the provision is poorly worded and drafted so broadly it has the potential to allow for the blanket release of the names of all Albertans who have tested positive for COVID-19 and perhaps even the medical records of those who have not.

Jay Cameron, JCCF litigation manager

JCCF litigation manager Jay Cameron said Canadians have privacy rights against unreasonable searches under the Charter, and the disclosure of medical records is a warrantless search.

“The police don’t need your medical records. We don’t release any other medical records to the police in the ordinary course of business because it is a violation of privacy rights,” he said. “So, why are we doing it for this?”

Cameron is also concerned the new law contains no safeguards outlining the use, storage and retention of the personal data by police, no limitations on how the police may use the information and nothing to ensure the information is destroyed at a later date.

“The minister has unilaterally amended laws which protect citizens’ disclosure of medical records,” he said, adding the JCCF plans to file its challenge in the coming days. “There is no need that I can think of to hand over medical records en masse of citizens who may have had the virus and recovered. What good is that to police? They are not contagious.”

The order is made under the authority of the provincial Public Health Act, which was recently amended by the provincial government. Those amendments, which are also known as Bill 10, give cabinet ministers the power to suspend or modify the enactments they are responsible for if they are convinced not doing so will have an effect on public health. It too has been challenged in court by the JCCF.

Provincial MLAs from the ruling United Conservative Party (UCP) sent out a letter saying Bill 10 “does not create new powers for politicians to implement any law that they choose during an emergency, as some critics have claimed.” But Cameron said Shandro’s move largely nullifies that argument.

“Our main concern with Bill 10 was that it allowed the minister to make new laws, and that is the use it has been put to,” he said. “The Alberta government is proving our point.”

This is not the first time concerns have been raised about the sharing of personal information during the COVID-19 crisis. In April, several legal organizations in Ontario sent a letter to provincial Solicitor General Sylvia Jones regarding her government’s decision to provide first responders with the name, addresses and dates of birth of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.

The Lawyer’s Daily did not receive a response to requests for comment from both the Health Ministry and the office of Premier Jason Kenney.

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