B.C.’s privacy boss hails ruling barring big tobacco from getting info

Court’s unanimous decision comes 17 years after B.C. launched legal action against tobacco industry

British Columbia’s privacy commissioner says a ruling by Canada’s top court barring access to personal health records is a reflection of greater awareness about how such information could be wrongly used.

Michael McEvoy said even providing a tobacco company with data that excludes names and health numbers would have been problematic because the use of various databases could easily identify individuals.

Philip Morris International wanted patients’ records in a bid to fight British Columbia’s efforts to recover smoking-related health-care costs but the Supreme Court of Canada issued a ruling Friday saying the province doesn’t have to provide the documents.

McEvoy said the information the company requested shouldn’t be in the hands of anyone outside of the health-care system.

The precedent-setting decision will provide greater privacy protection in the province and have wider implications for all Canadians, he said.

McEvoy said recent privacy issues surrounding British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which mined Facebook users’ information, have drawn the attention of citizens around the world about what can go wrong when sensitive data is used for unintended purposes.

British Columbia introduced legislation in 2000 to protect citizens’ privacy as it worked to recoup health-care costs related to tobacco use.

“That’s the reason we intervened in the case to support the province’s position,” McEvoy said of his office’s involvement about two years ago, when Philip Morris asked for patients’ information despite decades of mounting evidence about addictive nicotine links to cancer from smoking.

“It’s a precedent-setting case that will provide greater privacy protection for sensitive health information of citizens in this province and hopefully have wider applications for all Canadians,” he said.

The top court’s unanimous decision came 17 years after B.C. launched legal action against the tobacco industry, and it’s been followed by similar cases by every other province.

Last year, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld a lower court’s decision requiring the government to hand over the patient data.

The Health Ministry said in a statement that holding tobacco companies accountable is a priority for the province.

“The security and confidentiality of health data was one of our primary considerations in pursuing this appeal.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

OUR VIEW: Search and rescue organization needs to be examined

No organization should be immune to scrutiny

Over 100 take the Vancouver Island polar plunge

More than $25,000 raised for BC Special Olympics athletes

Murdered and missing honoured at Stolen Sisters Memorial March in Victoria

‘We come together to make change within the systems in our society’

B.C. students win Great Waters Challenge video contest

Video, mural and song about saving the salmon claims the top prize

B.C. athlete takes home gold in freestyle aerials at Canada Games

Brayden Kuroda won the event with a combined score of 121.65.

Cabinet likely to extend deadline to reconsider Trans Mountain pipeline

New round of consultations with Indigenous communities is coming

B.C. government provides $75,000 towards salmon study

Study looks at abundance and health of Pacific salmon in Gulf of Alaska

UBC researchers develop inexpensive tool to test drinking water

The tricoder can test for biological contamination in real-time

Disgraced ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner released from prison

He was convicted of having illicit online contact with a 15-year-old North Carolina girl in 2017

B.C. communities push back against climate change damages campaign

Activists copying California case that was tossed out of court

Most Read