Ontario: Immediately Halt Data Sharing with Police!
Hon. Doug Ford, Premier
Hon. Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health
Hon. Sylvia Jones, Solicitor General
Rick Leary, CEO, Toronto Transit Commission
This is an open letter to demand an end to the sharing of Personal Health Information-- including COVID-19 status and all socio-demographic information related to COVID-19 status--with law enforcement across Ontario immediately.
Under the “Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act”, police now have exceptional, unregulated powers to access personal health information. This includes COVID-19 status, address, name, and date of birth.
This letter represents the concerns of healthcare providers, community members, healthcare researchers, community organizations, communities excessively targeted for criminalization, and healthcare organizations across Ontario who are opposed to inappropriate use of police power and privacy violations by law enforcement that erode constitutional rights and communities’ trust in public institutions, and undermine access to health services in this time of COVID-19.
We demand that the public be informed of how this data will be used, offered the option of confidential COVID-19 testing in community health settings, and that each person accessing healthcare is given the opportunity to give informed consent regarding this data collection in healthcare settings. The public is owed a plan that has a prescribed scope and clear rationale for data collection. Further, detailed information must be provided to the public verbally and, in writing, including on a website, regarding the storage, use, protection, and disposal of such data.
Slowing down COVID-19 in Ontario requires a degree of trust in interventions being implemented to contain the pandemic. Communities across Ontario continue to express a lack of trust in police forces due to demonstrated lack of accountability. Police forces have demonstrated that they are not trustworthy custodians of private health data. Structural and systemic inequities have led to excessive criminalization of key communities including Indigenous and Black, 2S & LGBTQ* communities, people experiencing homelessness, people who use drugs, people living HIV, people with disabilities, and people living with mental illnesses. The same communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and are being disproportionately targeted by increased policing and surveillance. Ontario cannot afford to further lose public trust in pandemic responses in this critical moment.
Calls to Action!
We make the following calls to action, to the Ontario government, healthcare providers, first responders, public health staff, health researchers, data and computational scientists, IT staff, and IT developers, who have the opportunity to undertake without delay measures to ensure necessary protections of community health, rights, and privacy during this pandemic.
1: Calls to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Health Christine Elliot, and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones
The province must immediately revoke the order enabling police to access sensitive health information. COVID-19 is a health crisis, the healthcare system and health agencies are best situated to lead its mitigation and containment. The province must provide a detailed and transparent report on how data released to date has been used and by whom. Public trust is critical for engagement with prevention and testing measures and sustaining a long-term response. This breach of trust must be repaired by acting in a timely manner.
Repeal Regulation 120/20 of the “Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act” and immediately issue the appropriate directives and orders to all police services requiring them to cease and desist accessing personal health information about anyone in Ontario.
Include a sunset clause in any regulation or order for all COVID-19 and any other related data collection sparked by the pandemic that is shared outside of healthcare agencies. Such a clause must also release all information about data acquisition, storage, data ownership, and purge of said data to the public in the interests of transparency and mediating harm. All data purges must be independently verified by a qualified third-party to ensure completeness due to the nature of data ecosystems.
2: Call to Toronto Transit Commission (TTC)
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) may have violated the Ontario Human Rights Code, which prohibits discrimination in the provision of services. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) must immediately disclose how they accessed the COVID-19 status of the woman they denied service to on April 14th and the process that resulted in the broadcast of the information. Further, the TTC must also disclose whether they have access to any other person’s COVID-19 status, where they are housing this information and a detailed description of the steps to purge the information, verified by a qualified independent third-party to ascertain completeness due to the multi-layered nature of data ecosystems.
The TTC must issue a public apology with regards to the broadcast of the information as noted above.
3: Calls to Public Health staff, and health providers
We call on custodians of private healthcare data to ensure the human rights of people in Ontario are protected. Please protect your patients from stigma and criminalization by refusing to share any personal health information with law enforcement. Uphold your responsibility and retain peoples’ private data within the healthcare system. This pandemic stands to be exacerbated by policing, criminal charges, and a pervasive surveillance culture. Sharing this data will alienate patients, decrease already damaged public trust in public institutions, and undermine engagement in testing and access to health care, deepening conditions of isolation that put isolated people at greater risk.
4: Call to IT workers, designers, programmers, and coders working in the public health space
We invite the builders of information technology infrastructure to ensure the protection of human rights in your work. In the tradition of #TechWontBuildIt, please protect the interests of patients by refusing to build the infrastructure for data sharing with police forces across Ontario. Do not be complicit in privacy violations and the rise of invasive surveillance culture. This is not normal. Do not build software, databases, or platforms that assist police forces in criminalizing people.
Toronto Overdose Prevention Society
Coalition Against More Surveillance, Ottawa
Parkdale Community Legal Services, Toronto
Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance
No One is Illegal, Toronto
People's Health Movement Canada
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
Join the call to action!
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