Editorial – Privacy Commissioner’s Office Needs to Make Decision Soon

In Editorial

Editorial – It just keeps dragging on.

Delay after delay after delay.

It’s been ten months and still no decision from Information & Privacy Commissioner’s Office concerning a request submitted by Port Hope resident Randy Fallis.

In mid-April 2020 Fallis filed a Freedom of Information request with HKPR requesting more information concerning COVID cases in our area. Specifically the number of cases in municipalities as opposed to the county.

Currently the HKPR District Health Unit only releases COVID-19 cases by the county.

What Fallis is asking, is why can’t that information be released on lower-tiered municipalities.

For examples, towns or townships.

After being told he would receive a reply “shortly” last April by the Health Unit they proceeded to wait 28 days before denying his claim. But the claim wasn’t denied for privacy reasons, but because the Health unit doesn’t maintain records in the format he wanted, they claim they are not obliged to “create new records.”

Today’s Northumberland first raised concerns about the lack of information being released by the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR) concerning COVID-19. At that time communications with the health unit was nearly non-existent.

Neighbouring jurisdictions including Durham next door, Hastings/Prince Edward to the east, Simcoe/Muskoka which is to the west of Haliburton and Renfrew to the east of Haliburton did release lower tier municipalities but HKPR Health Unit didn’t and still doesn’t citing privacy reasons as it may identify a person who has COVID-19.

Fallis appealed the HKPR health units decision to the Information & Privacy Commissioner’s Office. But since they have been closed due to the pandemic, Fallis has been very patiently waiting.

Each time the Privacy Commission asks for more information from both sides, Fallis gives it as soon as possible But with the health unit, most times they will send the information at the last possible moment causing more delays for the decision.

Fallis stated last year the mission statement of any health unit should be to protect the people in their jurisdiction.

“That’s why we need the information – to help inform us if the virus is in our local municipality,” he stated last year.

Given it takes up to an hour to get from one end of the County to another, it’s paramount to know what’s going on in each municipality.

Last April, Fallis said he was “frustrated.”

With information being released on cases of COVID in schools, day cares, and long-term care facilities across the province and lower-tier municipality COVID data in some jurisdictions, Fallis stated last year, “it makes no sense at all.”

That holds true to this day.

It’s a simple request. Given by what neighbouring health units are doing most would naturally think Fallis’ request will be granted.

Even the current Medical Officer of Health for the area has released numbers for lower tier municipalities during weekly press conferences with the media.

The other side of the coin would be if it is turned down by the Information and Privacy Commission then their decision would mean that other health units who are releasing lower tier municipalities are likely breaching by the privacy of individuals who’ve contacted COVID-19.

Could there be charges?

Since the previous Medical Officer of Health has retired and Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Ian Gemmill has been a breath of fresh air since taking over the health unit. There has been a vast improvement in communication but this decision needs to be decided soon.

But if the decision sides with Fallis, as Acting Medical Officer of Health for the area, it falls upon Dr. Gemmill to apologize for not holding up to the commitment of what the health unit is supposed to do – be transparent and protect the people.
The process didn’t start with him, but he’s the one at the helm at this point.

And as it stands right now, the pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon.

Pete Fisher
Author: Pete Fisher

Has been a photojournalist for over 30-years and have been honoured to win numerous awards for photography and writing over the years. Best selling author for the book Highway of Heroes - True Patriot Love

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