TORONTO – Police access to a COVID-19 Database has been ended. The decision by the Ontario Government came following legal action on the part of human rights and privacy advocates after finding out that there were over 95,000 searches of the database when it was available to police.
The Thunder Bay Police Service and the Durham Region Police were responsible for over forty percent of the database searches.
According to the information, the Thunder Bay Police Service accessed personal health information over 14,800 times. This is ten times more than the provincial average. This in a city where the Thunder Bay District Health Unit has only reported 100 total cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic started.
In April, the Ontario government as a part of the emergency measures contained in the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act put in place the measure which permitted police services in the province to obtain the names, addresses, and dates of birth of Ontarians who had tested positive for COVID-19.
The Thunder Bay District Health Unit tells NetNewsLedger that all of the contact tracing in their area is done by health officials. Lance Dyll says, “Public Health is still completing all case and contact management.”
The massive use of the database by police services raised red flags for civil rights groups across the province who sought a court injunction.
Now civil liberties groups are demanding local police services destroy records of any personal health information they may have on file.
When filing the legal papers in April, the groups filing suit saw the potential for abuse of the information.
“Throughout history, police have been used as a weapon by the state to dismantle the pillars of Indigenous society, including healthcare. This has resulted in not only significant health disparities for Indigenous people, but a serious lack of trust for police services.” says Caitlyn Kasper, lawyer at Aboriginal Legal Services. “As a result, the provision of sensitive personal health information to police unnecessarily deters Indigenous people from accessing essential services, such as timely, confidential healthcare. This then places the health of Indigenous people and the broader community at risk.”
“The staggering numbers of Black Ontarians who face discrimination, harassment, and even violence at the hands of police and other authorities is due to systemic inequalities that have permeated our societal institutions for decades,” said Ruth Goba, Executive Director of BLAC. “Our community already experiences carding – the police needlessly collecting personal information en masse. The fact that personal health information is now being needlessly shared with the police is deeply concerning to Black communities across the province.”
“Individual Ontarians’ health information is among the most sensitive personal information the government holds,” said Abby Deshman, Director of the Criminal Justice Program with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “Given the patchy nature of COVID testing and the risk of asymptomatic spread, police – like the rest of the population – need to be taking universal precautions to prevent the spread of COVID. Sharing COVID test results with police is not necessary, and in fact undermines an effective public health approach to this pandemic.”
“Police involvement in public health matters impedes effective public health responses,” said Khalid Janmohamed, HALCO staff lawyer. “People are less likely to get tested or seek treatment because they are afraid of being targeted by police. We have seen this happen in relation to the criminalization of people living with HIV and people who use drugs. We are at dire risk of duplicating these harms with the sharing of COVID-19 diagnosis information with police. Like in relation to HIV and drug use, for COVID-19 we need a public health response, not a public policing response.”
NetNewsLedger has reached out to the Thunder Bay Police Services Board for comment.