Thanks to Jen for allowing us to share her letter and e-mail addresses. “Preferably, the letter should be printed, signed, and scanned to Premier Notley. If you cannot print and sign, just sign electronically and fill in your information. I have cc’d multiple parties because the more people that know there is concern about this Bill, the better. The quickest and most efficient way to do this is by email. It does not matter if we all send the same letter, because what will catch the Premier’s eye is the number of people sending letters – not necessarily the content. “
Premier Rachel Notley
Office of the Premier,
307 Legislature Building
Edmonton, Alberta T5K 2B6
RE: Bill 28, Amendment to the Public Health Act, RSA 2000, c. P-37
Premier Rachel Notley:
I am writing to express grave concerns relating to personal privacy and the Public Health Act, along with the changes to it proposed in Bill 28.
Personal medical records are personal, private information and property. The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized, on many occasions, that personal medical information belongs to the individual to whom it relates, and that the individual has control over whom they wish to share this private medical information with.
Fortunately, this Bill draws attention to section 18 of the Public Health Act because of the proposed amendments. Section 18.1 would seem to be in complete conflict with the Supreme Court case law by requiring individuals to share personal, private medical information relating to voluntary medical programs. Demanding personal medical information is an infringement on personal rights as set out in Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is an absolute over-step into individuals’ rights to freedom and privacy, and in its current state, the Public Health Act is open to constitutional challenges.
In reviewing the Hansard pages related to Bill 28, my concerns related to personal privacy seems to be echoed in discussions about this Bill. Members of the legislative assembly spoke at length about privacy concerns that arise from this Bill based on a “significant number of breaches of privacy with respect to the health records of Albertans” over the past 18 months. This is extremely disconcerting for any citizen to hear. What safeguards will be put into place to protect the citizens of Alberta and their right to privacy? What is the cost of implementation to the tax payers if all the appropriate safeguards are built in?
Based on discussions within the legislative assembly, it would appear that is has been clearly identified by our government that the current system and processes of organizing personal medical data is inefficient, and has resulted in numerous breaches of privacy that have impacted innocent Albertans who have entrusted their personal information with this government. Should this inefficiency not be addressed first and foremost? This issue puts the personal information of Alberta citizens at great risk. It is disappointing that our government is failing to address the actual issue: inefficient methods of handling extremely sensitive personal data that ultimately creates liabilities for the government, and thereby, for its citizens.
Section 18.2 is particularly troublesome for numerous reasons:
- What is the purpose of Section 18.2 if the medical officer already has the authority to collect the information for the same purpose?
- Does the Minister of Education have the authority under the FOIP Act to collect the information it will be expected to collect? Who is the Minister of Education collecting information from?
- Section 18.2 completely fails to specify or describe exactly what “voluntary health program information” entails, nor is this defined anywhere in the document or the Public Health Act. An exhaustive list must be provided considering the extremely personal nature of the information being provided. The failure to define “voluntary health program information” anywhere within the Public Health Act is dangerous and irresponsible, and this Bill should aim to rectify that blatant oversight.
- As per the Government of Alberta’s November 7, 2016 announcement regarding Bill 28, it would seem the government’s intent is to increase immunization rates. If this is the case, why would a medical officer contact individuals about “hearing, vision, speech and dental health programs” as well? How is this information relevant or useful for communicable disease control?
I have reviewed the concerns identified by our Information and Privacy Commissioner in her November 9th letter to Honourable Sarah Hoffman and concur completely. I will be intensely following this discussion and the response by your government.
I have additional concerns relating to why educational bodies and child care programs should have any involvement in a child’s medical history, or access to it. Alberta’s Inclusive Education Policy states that “all children and students, regardless of race, religious belief, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, family status or sexual orientation, or any other factor(s), have access to meaningful and relevant learning experiences that include appropriate instructional supports”. Treating the families of children differently based on the medical records lays grounds for discrimination. Furthermore, how do the Medical Officer, the Minister of Education and the Minister of Health decide which families will be contacted? What criteria have been developed to determine this?
With respect to the proposition in the November 7, 2016 announcement of this Bill that parents of unimmunized children must provide exemptions for their children, this is unfounded in that “voluntary health programs” would not require a written exemption- be it medical or personal. That is completely illogical. Neither the Public Health Act nor this proposed Bill contains provisions to support that demand.
That being said, it is unreasonable to ask certain parents to undergo questioning and coercion based on personal decisions’ made in the best interest of their children. Until comprehensive vaccine injury compensation programs are established to address situations where vaccinations permanently harm a child, a parent’s choice to avoid or delay vaccination should be fully recognized and respected without being subjected to any government intervention.
Honourable Sarah Hoffman has stated that this Bill will allow the government to better “respond to outbreaks and public health officials will have more ability to provide information to families about the importance of vaccination”. However, the dissemination of such information cannot be achieved because it does not exist! There has never been a longitudinal, cumulative study or any research completed that looks at the long term effects of our current immunization schedule. Therefore, you will not be able to provide this information. Honourable Dr. David Swann expressed this very fact during the November 9, 2016 assembly discussions about Bill 28.
It is alarming that our government intends to pass a bill of this magnitude in one month’s time with little to no public engagement, and does not seem to align with open, transparent governance policies. The secrecy and speed with which this Bill has been reviewed and approved is reminiscent of our past government. At the very least, this Bill must be revised and put to public discussion for review, feedback and consultation. In depth discussions have to occur regarding what personal, private information should be reasonably shared, if any.
I trust our government will take into account its citizens’ concerns and objections to Bill 28 in its current state, and remember its own responsibility to uphold personal rights and freedoms, including one’s right to privacy. Governments are entrusted to protect the rights of their citizens, not make incursions on those rights as Section 18.1 of the Public Health Act does, and this bill proposes to continue to do.
Cc: Honourable Sarah Hoffman, Minister of Health
Honourable David Manson Eggen, Minister of Education
Honourable Stephanie McLean, Minister of Service Alberta
Ms. Jill Clayton, Information and Privacy Commissioner
Mr. Allan Damer, Co-Chair, Constitutional and Human Rights Section, Canadian Bar
Association – North
Ms. Anne Cote, Co-Chair, Privacy Law Section, Canadian Bar
Association – North
Mr. Nigel Forster, Co-Chair, Health Law Section, Canadian Bar
Association – North
Email addresses for Rachel Notley, and individuals CC’d the letter
Honourable Premier Rachel Notley – firstname.lastname@example.org
Honourable Sarah Hoffman, Minister of Health – email@example.com
Honourable Stephanie McLean, Minister of Service Alberta – firstname.lastname@example.org
Honourable David Manson Eggen, Minister of Education – email@example.com
Ms. Jill Clayton, Information and Privacy Commissioner – firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Allan Damer, Co-Chair, Constitutional and Human Rights Section, Canadian Bar Association – North – email@example.com
Ms. Anne Cote (Privacy Law Section of CBA – North) – firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Nigel Forster, Co-Chair, Health Law Section, Canadian Bar Association – North – email@example.com
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