On April 6, Ontario officials announced that first responders in the province, including police, firefighters, and paramedics, would have access to a database that includes names, addresses, dates of birth, and whether or not a person had tested positive for COVID-19.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is calling it “an extraordinary invasion of privacy.”
In a letter sent to Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, which was cosigned by other advocacy organizations, the CCLA said it was concerned about the legality of the measures.
“We have not found sufficient explanation of how providing this information to first responders, and police in particular, is useful, much less necessary, in responding to the present emergency,” the letter said.
Among the group’s concerns is that the database may not even be very useful.
“Based on what we know about COVID-19 testing in this province, any database of test results will be a very partial picture of who’s carrying COVID-19, and it may also be out of date,” Abby Deshman, a lawyer and director of the criminal justice program at the CCLA, told TheNewstip.
“Personal health information is among the most private information that people have in their lives, and it is usually extremely tightly controlled and only shared with health providers and only with consent and only when absolutely necessary,” she added.
Deshman said the solicitor general has not yet replied to the letter, which was sent on Thursday.
A spokesperson for Solicitor General Jones told TheNewstip, “First responders put their lives on the line every day to protect Ontarians, and they are at great risk of being directly exposed to COVID-19 as they fulfill their frontline duties. That’s why it’s critical that we protect and support our frontline responders who are fighting to protect us from this virus every day.”
The emergency order has a time limit and will expire when Ontario is no longer in a state of emergency.
“Strict protocols are enforced to limit access to this information and it is used only to allow first responders to take appropriate safety precautions to protect themselves and the communities they serve,” the spokesperson said.
Deshman, however, said there are no province-wide measures to ensure information is shared appropriately or to register complaints. She is also concerned about how the information-sharing may impact minority groups who have a history of negative interactions with law enforcement.
The letter was co-signed by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario, the Black Legal Action Centre, and Aboriginal Legal Services.